FRESNO — In its ever-elusive chase for that podium finish, nine-time Valley Champions, the Madera South boys cross country team finished just out of the top three at the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Fresno’s Woodward Park.
The Stallions, who have placed as high as second in 2013, scored 218 points and placed fifth Saturday. It marked the fourth straight year the Stallions have placed in the top five.
Madera South was led by Div. I individual Valley Champion Miguel Villar, who faded to a 14th place finish. He finished his career with three top 15 finishes in the state meet.
Villar, a senior, started off with the leaders and was in fourth place in the first two miles of the race.
“At the beginning, I felt very comfortable with the leaders,” Villar said. “I felt strong.”
He ran with the lead group for most of the race, but faced in the final 800 meters.
“I was in fourth at the first mile,” Villar said. “I knew the last mile was going to be hard so I was trying to be as comfortable as possible and make sure I had enough for the last mile. Ironically, I didn’t.”
Villar finished the race with a time of 15:33.4. He was just three seconds out of placing in the top 10, but was 15 seconds slower than he ran to win the Valley Championship.
However, Villar was happy to be participating in the state meet and was proud of how his team placed.
“I’m blessed to be in these shoes,” Villar said. “I’m very grateful. I give thanks to God to be able to the things I’ve done. I’m proud of my guys. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to stand with. I’m grateful.”
Sophomore Victor Ochoa was the next Stallion across the finish line in 51st place with a time of 16:09.8. He was followed by senior Christian Nevarez in 55th place with a time of 16:11.4. Nevarez made his return the state meet after missing last year to an injury.
“I really love it. It’s great to be able to overcome a lot in my life. After my stress fracture, I never thought I would be back or be back in the shape I’m in now. For me, it’s just great to be back a lot stronger than I was before.”
Senior Michael Ochoa was the fourth Stallion to cross the finish line in 81st place, finishing the race in 16:22.8. Senior Nicholas Hernandez closed out the scoring three seconds behind Ochoa in 85th place.
Junior Adrian Alvarez was sixth on the team and 87th overall, five seconds behind Ochoa. Junior Seth Garcia was the seventh Stallion across the line in 119th place.
Coyotes enjoy experience
Although it wasn’t a team effort at the CIF State Cross Country championships, Madera freshman Unique Ford and junior Olivia Zambrano hope to use the experience to get the Madera Coyote girls cross country team to the state meet next year.
For senior Tim Fitch, it was a culmination on his senior year for opportunities missed.
“I think it was a great experience for all three of them,” head coach Alisha Brown said.
Ford, who was a Valley Champion runner-up in the Div. II race last week, finished with a time of 18:38.0 and lowered her personal record time by three seconds.
She finished the year as the fastest freshman girl in Coyote history and recorded a top five time, regardless of class.
“It was amazing to watch her get this far as a freshman and be coachable,” Brown said. “It was great to see her run. Unique powered through that race and attacked the race. She got out with the front pack and ended up running a fast time.”
Ford tried to run with the leaders to get her goal of a top 15 finish, but she was pushed back into the pack.
“I had to adjust the way I wanted to run,” she said. “I was in the front, but I started sinking back slowly. I think I went out too fast in the beginning.”
Ford looks ahead at many more opportunities at the state meeting.
“I have to train harder and focus on how I’m going to start and end,” she said.
Zambrano beat her Valley Championship 10th place run by four seconds to place 135th at the state meet. She enjoyed her experience and crossed the finish line with a smile on her face before enjoying her birthday and quinceañera later in the day.
“I think she had fun,” Brown said. “She’s a birthday girl so it’s a good day either way. The experience we wanted to take away from this will make her more hungry to be here with her whole team. The girls started in two separate boxes and were looking at each other at the start and during the race. Olivia and Unique are going to want the whole team here next year.”
Like Zambrano, Fitch was all smiles as he crossed the finish line, finally achieving a goal he set when he began running in his freshman year.
“It felt pretty good to finally get here,” he said.
Fitch just missed out on qualifying for state last year, but made sure he qualified this year with a seventh place finish at last week’s Div. II Valley Championship race.
“I took off pretty well and was with about 20 people back from the first place person,” he said. “I got pushed all the way back at the first mile. I had to fight my way through it the rest of the race.”
Fitch finished in 105th place with a time of 16:30.9.
“It was everything I thought it would be like,” he said. “It’s a great experience. I was happy to be able to qualify to get here.”
Hawks make school history
The Liberty Hawks girls cross country team made history by becoming the first Hawks team to compete at the CIF State Cross Country championships.
Previously, the Hawks sent individuals — Jamie Lewis and Grace Hall — to the state meet. However, with a third place finish at last week’s Div. IV Valley Championships, the Hawks’ team qualified.
Liberty would have sent individuals in Sophia Napier and Aaliyah Montemayor, but the Hawks’ team qualified.
Napier, a freshman, led the Hawks to a 22nd place finish at the state meet. Napier finished in 131st place with a time of 21:07.4. She is the second fastest freshman in school history.
“There was quite a few of our girls who were able to come in and get a personal record, even today,” coach Jason Napier said. “Again, it’s very exciting. I would say in our first time in the state championship, we had a great time and did really well.”
She was followed by freshman Lexi Perez in 157th place with a time of 21:49.3. Montemayor, another freshman, was six seconds back in 161st place.
Fourth on the team was sophomore Matison McCombs in 164th place with a time of 21:58.0. Sophomore Brianna Burgess closed the team scoring in 183rd place.
Senior Rebecca Mendoza placed 184th, six seconds behind Burgess and a second ahead of teammate freshman Madison Bento in 185th place.
“That’s one of the best things about being here is you have the opportunity to take a bunch of young kids and show them what it looks like,” Napier said. “Many of them have never seen this or have been here before. To be able to run with the competition level, it definitely gives them something to shoot for and helps them move up in the next season.”