The Artichoke Invitational is one of the highlights of the bay area High School season. James Lick has been running at the Artichoke Invitational since the 1970s, making the course a good indication of athlete fitness and a good measure of how current Comets stack up against the great athletes of the past. The course was 2.25 miles from its foundation up until 2007. The course has been 2.33 miles since.
The day began with a bang in the freshen boys race. Jonathan Bradley and Omar Fimbres came in close together at 15:18 and 15:24 respectively. Both boys ran by far the fastest pace of their careers to this point, running 6:34 pace and 6:38 pace respectively. These times were notably faster than Mark Orpia’s time from last year (15:41) as Mark is now a high quality STAL varsity runner. Jonathan’s time was even faster than Nathan Bernardo’s freshmen time of 15:22. Nathan would of course go on to lead the team to a STAL championship as a senior and win the school’s Ryan award. Jose Ruiz also had a strong race running 16:37.
The Frosh/Soph girls race was next and the Comets sent a huge group of athletes forward. The leading Comet in the race was Ashley Preciado, who is a great example to her teammates. Ashley ran 19:45 for 8:28 pace, the best of her career. This was a huge PR for Ashley who ran 23:46 as a freshmen last year. Ashley has turned herself into a borderline varsity level runner and should inspire others to do the same. For example, Mya Hammond ran 20:30, Emma Veronica ran 20:55 and Emely Lopez ran 21:06. All 3 girls ran the best races of their careers to this point, and show the potential to be strong varsity runners next year. Mariana Perez (21:46) Francine Estranero (23:06) and Estefanie Herrera (24:34) all had the best races of their career as well. Denise Marquez, Maria Sanchez and Anahi Santos rounded out the race for the Comets.
The Frosh/Soph boys was another huge group for the Comets. The team was lead by a stupendous performance by Sophomore Mark Orpia. After running 15:41 as a freshmen, Mark ran 13:43. This is Mark’s first time under 6 minute pace for an XC race, with a 5:53 pace. This is the 2nd best Sophomore time by a James Lick Comet in the past decade, narrowly missing Nathan Bernardo’s 13:38. Mark placed 5th overall.
Melvin Estrada was the next Comet in, also running the best race of his career. Melvin ran 6:20 pace even, going under 6:30 pace for the first time in his career. He lead a stream of big sophomore PRs. Melvin ran 14:47 compared to a 16:31 clocking a year ago. Nien Tran and Hugo Marquez ran 15:13 and 15:21 compared to times of 17:25 and 17:03 respectively as freshmen. Daniel Portillo went from 18:05 as a freshmen to 15:56 as a sophomore. Jerricho Habon battled a tight hamstring and did not PR. Rudolf Ocampo (17:37) Brandon Cruz (17:44) Luis Escamilla (18:51) and Alvaro Fabian (19:37) completed the team.
Only two athletes ran in the JV race for the team, Elizabeth Perez and Aliana Santos. Aliana ran a big PR of 20:58, while last year she ran over 22 minutes.
The varsity races were last on the ledger. Arlet Miranda ran 17:40 to lead the team. Belen Sanchez ran 18:12, a full minute PR from her 19:10 performance last year. Jennifer Villagomez and Justine Austria ran 19:18 and 19:24 as they continue to build towards solidifying the team. Both girls ran under 8:20 pace for the first time in their careers. Analilia Regla has battled injury this week, but ran a decent time of 21:14 to complete the team.
In the varsity boys race, Azael Zamora became the first Comet to run under 13 minutes on the 2.33 mile course. After running 13:04 as a junior, Azael managed a 20 second PR of 12:44. This moves Azy up from 17th to 8th on the school’s all time list. Inteus Castro-Lopez had a strong race as well, running 13:38 for an 11 second PR. Cody Huoch had the best XC race of his career to run 15:07. Jose Limon ran 15:33. Isaac Veronica and Austin Swank came across the line together in 16:30 and 16:33 respectively.
The team continues to rapidly approach as the season progresses. The team will take on Leigh and Pioneer at Montgomery Hill for STAL 4. The team will then begin preparations for BVAL finals on October 30th.
In recent years, one of the Comets most beloved traditions has been the yearly trip down to Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. Sac for short) for the largest high school cross country invitational in the entire world. James Lick began taking athletes to Mt. Sac in the year 2000 and has taken athletes every season since for a total of 16 years of history on the course. At most the team has taken 7 boys and 7 girls a season, and these athletes are chosen based on factors such as dedication, and commitment to being a student athlete. As a result, athletes who run for James Lick at Mt. Sac range from top varsity runners, to lower level JV/reserve runners. In any case, there have been some quality times on the Mt. Sac course over the years, and the Comets will look to add more good times this season.
The course is a challenging 2.93 mile course, and times at Mt. Sac have always been a good indicator of what an athlete is capable of running at Crystal Springs. This coupled with Mt. Sac being the team’s final race of the year before league finals at Crystal Springs, make it the perfect final tuneup for a very dedicated group of athletes. The course involves 3 significant, but very different hills, and despite these hills, the course is overall a good course to run fast on due to the high level of competition and very fast 1st mile.
The year 2000 had only boys competing for the Comets. The results did not include the boys names unfortunately, but they nonetheless ran a team time of 1:26:42 (86:42) a strong time for an essentially 3 mile course. Again, as Mt. Sac and Crystal Springs are very comparable in terms of time, a team time in the mid 80s is in line with what James Lick was capable of throughout much of its history. In 2001, Ivan Navarro ran 16:38 on the course for what stands as the #2 all time James Lick clocking on the course. Nelson Funston ran 17:50 that season as well for what is currently #15 on the school’s all time list. The team of 01′ combined for a team time of 87:00 exactly, #3 on the school’s all time team times list.
2002 saw Jose Gutierrez run 16:13 for the school record on the course. Teammate Brent Nichols also ran a very strong time of 16:43, with Roger Mendez running 17:03 to take spots 3 and 4 on the school’s all time list. Juan Montiel in 17:12 and Efrain Estrada in 17:24 both also cracked the top 10 list, and helped the team to the team record on the course of 1:24:58 (84:58). Aurel Hernandez ran 17:39 for 14th place on the school’s all time list as well, giving the team of 02′ six total entries on the school’s all time list at Mt. Sac, a very impressive performance. Victor Rendon ran 17:54 the next year to place 17th on the school’s list. The team of 2003 ran 1:28:59 (88:59). Just like at Crystal Springs, the team of 03 would be the last James Lick team to run under 90 minutes at Mt. Sac for more than a decade. While in 2015 we were finally able to break the 90 minute barrier at Crystal again, we were unable to do so at Mt. Sac, making it a clear goal for this season.
2003 was the first year the team took girls to Mt. Sac and has done so every year since. The team of 03′ currently stands in 10th on the all time team list with a time of 2:05: 31 (125:31). The fastest girl on this team was Anita Castillo at 24:32, though she is no longer on the top 20 list for the course.
Chris Wiltron and Rogelio Gonzalez both ran 17:20 in 2004 to place 7th and 8th on the school’s all time list.The team time of 91:02 from this season is #5 on the school’s team time list. Joanna Rabano ran a then school record (now #8) time of 22:38 on the girl’s side this season. Mary Crable ran 23:38 for the 16th best Lady Comet time on the course this season as well.
In 2005, the girls team broke 2 hours for the first time the course, running 1:57:48 as a team for the current 5th best team time in school history. This year Gabriella Dominguez ran 22:08 for #5 and Esmeralda Gutierrez ran 23:06 for #11 on the school’s all time list. The next year both the individual and team record on the girl’s side was established. Kayla Matsuda ran 19:04 to lead the Comets to a team time of 1:56:11, still the school record a decade later. Reyes Morones ran 17:14 on the boys side this year as well, #5 all time.
In 2007 the girls saw me significant additions, Auror Lepe at #7 all time in 22:31 and Angelica Gutierrez at #14 in 23:20. This year the team ran 1:56:31, the 3rd best team time in school history. A year later Elsie Carillo ran the #6 time for James Lick, 22:25.
No additions were made on either side in 2009, though several were made in 2010. Ana Tapia ran the 3rd best time in school history on the girls side this season, clocking in at 21:43. Teresa Farias ran 24:02 to make the girls list as well. The same year I ran 17:25 for #11 currently on the school’s all time list, while my teammate Ricardo Flores ran 17:50 for 16th place. The team ran 91:45 this season, the 6th best team time in school history and the best of this decade (which should change this year). In 2011, Omar Vasquez ran 17:33, #13 all time, to lead the team to a team time of 92:54, 8th on the school’s team time list.A year later Armando Aguilar ran 17:58 for the current 18th best time in school history.
2013 saw the #2 team time in school history for the girls, 1:56:25. Karla Rodriguez ran 23:00 for #10 on the all time list this season. A year later, Daniela Camacho beat her PR from the year before, putting her #2 on the school’s all time list in 20:41. Paloma Contreras ran 22:50 for 9th in school history, and Alma Padilla ran 23:55 for 17th the same year.
In 2015 Nathan bernardo moved himself up the boys list to 9th with a time of 17:21. he helped lead the team to a team time of 92:12 #7 in school history as a team. The girls team became the 6th James Lick team to run under 2 hours at Mt. Sac, running a team time of 1:57:50. They were lead by several new additions to the all time list. Maria Mendoza ran 21:56, Andrea Ortiz ran 23:08, Elizabeth Guevara ran 23:15 and Jennifer Custodio ran 24:26 to put these runners 4th, 12th, 13th and 20th on the all time list.
The Comets will take to Mt. Sac this Saturday and will look to improve the team record books. Obviously some course lists are tougher to improve than others. Mt. Sac being a more modern course is easier to improve than courses like Crystal Springs, and as the team continues to work to restore the program, Mt. Sac will be a good final barometer before the team takes to BVAL Finals 9 days later.
With only one dual meet remaining in the season before the team heads to WVAL finals, now is as good a time as any to reflect on the rich history of James Lick Track in order to better contextualize the success of this years team.
James Lick began competing in Track and Field very soon after it was founded in 1950. The low number of schools in the area helped ensure James Lick was abundant in talent. By 1954 the team was winning league championships in Cross Country in the SCVAL (Santa Clara Valley Athletic League) and producing great athletes in Track and field. This was before the BVAL (Blossom Valley Athletic League) or the CCS (Central Coast Section) were in existence.
The team produced multiple championships, with athletes like Ray Russ in the 880 yard run (804 meters) and Henry Aguilar in the 120 (109 meters) yard hurdles winning not just the SCVAL, but the entire NCS (North Coast Section) title in their events. Records of times and marks throughout much of James Lick’s history are scarce, making the All Time lists I have complied only mostly completed. In order to compare the athletes of JL history to the athletes of today, all marks achieved in yard events have been converted to their metric-event equivalents. Ray Russ’ 880 time of 1:55.7 for example converts to a 1:55.24 800 time which still stands as the 3rd best time on record in school history. Henry Aguilar’s 14.90 converted 110 hurdle time is still the school record.
The CCS was formed in 1965, the same year that James Lick and several other schools formed the MHAL (Mount Hamilton Athletic League). During the 60s and 70s James Lick demonstrated incredible depth, with several of James Lick’s best ever marks achieved during this era. Dave Pike’s long jump record of 22-6.50, Dan Lloyd’s school record 59-9.50 Shot Put throw, and James McGhee’s school record 159-9 Discus throw were set during these years.
As more and more schools popped up around San Jose, the STAL (Santa Teresa Athletic League) and the WVAL (West Valley Athletic League) were formed. At this time the leagues were purely geographical, with the MHAL being the east side league, the STAL the south league, and the WVAL the western league. The foundation of more schools nearby James Lick, such as Independence and Piedmont , began to make a dent in James Lick’s Track and Field depth, as more and more students piled into other schools. Even so, the best athletes of James Lick in the late 70s and 80s were phenomenal, and 1975 marked the start of girls competition in the MHAL.
The 3200 school record of 9:26 (converted from a 2 mile time) set by Joe Salazar, and Peter Moreno’s outstanding 50-1 Triple jump were both set in 1976. The CCS has existed now over 50 years and with hundreds of athletes contesting the triple jump every year, Moreno’s mark still stands as the 3rd best in CCS history. The mid and late 80s saw two more JL greats. School record holder and double CCS champion Henry Barba ran 10.69 for the 100, and 21.57 for the 200 in 1985. Joe Amendt won 4 straight MHAL titles over 800 meters, from 1985 to 1988, eventually running a time of 1:50.75 for a school record and still 4th best time in CCS history. Joe also ran what stands as the converted school 1600 record of 4:18.49. By the early 1990s however, as James Lick began to suffer academically, more and more students chose Private schools or other local choices. This severely weakened the strength of the Cross Country and Track Teams, with much of James Lick’s would be talent turning elsewhere.
The early years of girls competition in the 70s and 80s had some strong marks, but the girls team never achieved the success of their male counterparts. A few years after girls were allowed to compete, the team produced very little athlete turnout on the girls side. Kathy Shelby’s school record 34 foot Shot put throw and Joan Jacobs school sprint records of 12.26 and 25.44 (again converted from yard events) were set in these early years. Again it should be noted that records were not well kept in this time, so records are based on what I could verify.
In the very late 1980s and 1990s, as James Lick declined, more and more schools opened around San Jose. As the CCS grew, and sought more organization, leagues began to experiment with Power league structures, where teams would move up or down between leagues of varied competition level based on ability.
In 1996 the BVAl was formed, with the MHAL, STAL, and WVAL coming together to form the biggest “Super League” in the CCS, with 24 total teams. The MHAL served as the ‘A’ league, the STAL the ‘B’ League and the WVAL the ‘C’ League. While some great marks were set in the 90s, including a school record in the 100 hurdles by Jamalia English of 15.51, James Lick was getting weaker by the year as more and more students flocked to schools that were performing better academically.
James Lick Track was immediately placed in the WVAL (C League) in 1996, and has been there ever since, along with most of the school’s sports. By this time, James Lick was not competitive in Track and Field at all anymore, with a few standout athletes not being able to help the team finish better than last place on the girls side, and 6th on the boys side in the weakest league of the BVAL in it’s first ever year.
In short, James Lick Track has struggled in the entire BVAL era (1996 on). The girls history, having never been strong as a team, saw several record breaking performances in the 2000s despite team struggles. These included a school record in the girls Discus by Ward in 2002 of 96-6 and outstanding girls Jumps records by Ruth Lebeau, 17-5.50 for long jump and 37-5 for Triple jump.
In 2009 The Track team was on the verge of folding with only 12 athletes on the entire team between boys and girls combined. Coach turnover was high, with soccer coach Ray Iniguez, school teacher Ms. Everet, and off campus coach Juan Trejo all stepping in to ensure the team at the very least existed. Over the course of 5 seasons from 2009-2013 the team did not win a single meet, going a combined 0-70 during this span.
In 2013 I came on as the Head Coach for Cross Country (along with Coach John Quasarano) and Track, having graduated from James Lick in 2011. It is a testament of the extent to which Track was not emphasized at James Lick in the early 2000s that I ran Cross Country all four years without ever participating in Track until college. I hoped dearly that we could gradually improve the fortunes of the team, and perhaps in a few years have a winning record. I was thrilled in my first season to be joined by throws Coach Jon Vela, who shared my ambitions for the team and obsession with fostering improvement.
What myself and Coach Vela, along with Coaches Juan Trejo and Ricardo Flores experienced was a student body which has blown away all expectations put on them. Despite the reputation James Lick has amassed in some circles regarded as an “at risk” school full of gang bangers or delinquents, the team has overcome the struggles of much of the BVAL era. As fall coaches (Vela coaching football), myself and Coach Vela are able to put a greater emphasis on recruiting athletes from within James Lick’s student body to come out and try Track and Field and this was the first step to success. The team of 2014 grew from 12 total athletes to 25. With this increase came the end to the team’s long losing streaks, and an encouraging breath of air along with it. The graduating class of 2015 was a truly special group of athletes. Team members such as Daniela Camacho, Paloma Contreras, Mario Perez, Karan Singh, Brianna Flores, and Robert Rios were instrumental in recruiting many of their friends and teammates from other sports to Track and, with it came far greater success.
Prior to 2015, myself, Coach Vela and Coach Q discussed the teams prospects. Our number one priority is always that every athlete improves as much as possible, but we also set the goal of finishing with a winning record on both sides for a combined winning record. At the time this was a very ambitious goal, having gone just 1-6 on both sides the year before, with the last winning record on other side being the 4-3 record of the boys in 2002. In fact, in the entire BVAL era, from 1996 to 2014 the Lady Comets Track team had NEVER had a winning record even once. The best combined record was the 7-7 team of 2001, when the boys went 5-2 and the girls 2-5.
The Team collectively demonstrated that they were ready to change that. the team of 2015 finished a combined 10-4, with the Varsity girls achieving the first winning record on record in school history (1975-2015) and definitely the first winning record in the BVAl era. The rapid turn around of the program speaks to the very hard working group of student athletes on the Comet Track team. James Lick still has limitations. We are still considered academically “at risk” we are currently the 2nd smallest school in the BVAL, but despite these limitations, the Track Team’s size spiked from 25 athletes in 2014, to 44 athletes in 2015.
The great 2015 JLTf renaissance boasted the school’s best girls team in the BVAL era and likely the best one in school history. Daniela set school records in all three distance events, and Andrea Ortiz set the school record in the 300 hurdles. The most commendable thing about the group of athletes who have turned JLTF around however isn’t the way that they compete, but the way they cohere. At WVAL finals last year, I had the immense pleasure of being told by multiple coaches that the James Lick Track team stood out for their remarkably welcoming and supportive treatment of their teammates and opponents. The Sportsmanship demonstrated by the team shows that the group of athletes we currently have aren’t weighed down by the perceptions of outsiders, or the limitations placed upon them.
Another measure of the 2015 team’s success was the number of athletes sent to BVAL Championships. This is a meet contested by all 3 of the BVALS leagues, with the top 4 athletes at WVAL Finals, the top 5 athletes at STAL Finals and the top 7 athletes at MHAL finals qualifying for the meet. For much of the 2000s, only a handful of athletes from JL would attend BVAL champs, with the highest number of the 2000s being 5 individual athletes in 2003. In 2015 however the team sent 9 individuals and 3 relay teams for a total of 16 athletes at BVAL champs.
The foundations set by the team of 2015 have set the team on the course for success for years to come. When a program is truly successful, it’ll have special years with special graduating classes, but it will continue to be successful even when it loses strong athletes because it has a system that works and a tradition of success. This is illustrated by many of the strong teams around the CCS such as Los Gatos, Lynbrook and local powerhouse Mt. Pleasant. The James Lick Track team is not yet a CCS power, nor a BVAL power, but only a few years ago it was the weakest team in the WVAL, and it is now arguably the best.
The team of 2015 was unquestionably the best team of the BVAL era (effectively the modern era or JLTF) with it’s 10-4 combined record. Despite the loss of the Top 3 Point scorers on the boys side, and the loss of school record holders and League champions on the girls side, the 2016 team has already improved upon the 2015 season standing at 11-1 with a highly anticipated dual vs YB remaining.
With the girls team at 6-0, they are on the verge of the first league championship in school history. This is amazing even in the C league when one considers that only 2 years ago the team had never even had a winning season in the BVAL era. The addition of experienced coach Steve Nichols in Sprints and Jumps has been huge in maintaining the team’s growth.
The team will need to throw down their best performances to defeat the also undefeated Yerba Buena warriors on their home turf, but the heart and determination the 2016 Track team has shown time and time again will surely serve them well. I count myself as extremely lucky for having a group of student athletes so determined to better the reputation and standing of their school.
On behalf of my coaching staff Thank you for your support of the James Lick Track Team and stay tuned for Final Dual Meet recap and WVAL finals preview coming soon.