Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
The Liberty Hawks boys cross country takes off to start the Div. V Central Section championship race. The Hawks finished just 30 points out of first and earned a berth at the CIF State Cross Country championships. From left are Quaid Copher (1227), Ryan Avila (1226), Israel Rivera (1231), Dylan Devine (1228) and Michael Rivera (1232).
FRESNO — Madera Coyotes girls cross country runner Unique Ford captured her second straight Div. II Central Section Cross Country championship in dominating fashion at Woodward Park.
Ford won by 12 seconds and set a personal record Thursday for the second week in a row. In addition, she beat the second place runner by 15 seconds despite running the final two miles after turning her ankle.
“It feels so awesome to PR again. I wanted to take it two years in a row,” she said.
“I’m just curious of what she would have done if she didn’t hurt her ankle,” Madera head coach Russ Stanford said. “She could have broke 18. When you’re running by yourself, it’s hard to get pushed. She’s pretty excited about winning two Valley Championships in a row.”
Meanwhile, the Liberty boys cross country team became just the second boys team in school history to advance to the state championships Saturday at Woodward Park. The Hawks placed second to Mammoth Oak, but had two runners — Ryan Avila and Dylan Devine — run in the top five.
“We’ve been talking about going to state for a while,” Liberty head coach Jason Napier said. “We had a strong group of guys that returned from last year and quite a few freshman boys that are pushing that. It’s fantastic to get these boys to state. They do all the work.”
Napier will be doubly busy at Saturday’s races because senior Sophia Napier, his daughter, advanced to her third CIF State Championship with a fourth place finish in the Div. V race.
“This will be the first time an athlete will compete in three state championships in school history,” coach Napier said. “To finish the race and know that’s going to happen is really exciting. Not only to do it as a participant, but to qualify is great.”
Madera South will also have a runner in the championships. Dariana Miramontes qualified with an eighth place finish in the Div. I race.
In the Div. II girls race, Ford had command the entire time. She came in the first mile running with Paso Robles’ Erika Nyberg. However, of the second mile, Ford began to pull ahead and ran away with the championship.
“I felt like if I stayed with her and then when I felt like I was getting stronger, I could go,” Ford said. “I felt strong at the end.”
She finished the race with a time of 18:15.51 to set a personal record by six seconds, which she set while winning the County/Metro Athletic Conference championships the week before.
“It feels so awesome to PR again,” Ford said. “I wanted to take it two years in a row. My mindset was pushing me. It was telling me to go and go.”
Madera’s Linda Perez also challenged to run in the top 10. She was third at the first mile, but fell back to eighth in the second. However, she was able to maintain her spot and earn and individual entry into the state championships.
“I felt really good going into it,” Perez said. “My mindset was determined. In my head, I was pushing
myself, so that was helping me out. I wish I could have gone faster, but eighth is eight and advancing to state is state.”
In addition, junior Julia Martinez kept Perez in her sights all race long. She checked in at the first and second miles in 10th place and cruised to the finish seven seconds ahead of 11th place and 15 seconds behind Perez. She also earned entry into the state championships.
“It feels good to have two other teammates with me,” Ford said. I’m used to training on my own, so it’s going to feel good to train with my teammates. It’s hard running by yourself. It feels good and so happy with myself. I’ve been wanting this the whole season and I accomplished my dream.”
“You only get about five individuals in three division,” Stanford said. “We got three out of the five. I’m excited they got in. Those three worked hard this season to get in. That’s their reward for working hard all season.
“When’s the last time a Madera team put three runners on the podium at Valley. We ran up and down the state to get more and more experience.”
However, Stanford was hopeful to get the entire team to the state championships, but Madera finished fourth, just 13 points behind San Luis Obispo, 11 points behind Sanger and eight points behind Paso Robles.
Paola Sanchez finished fourth on the team in 21st place and Bianca Scott was 33rd and completed the team scoring. Evelyn Zambrano and Brianna Chavez finished out the team.
“If we ran our times we ran at league, we would have won Valley,” Stanford said.
In the Div. I girls race, Miramontes was stuck in a pack and in 15th place in the first mile. However, she moved her way up to seventh at the second mile.
“That was my plan from the beginning to not take off too fast,” she said. “I knew a lot of runners would do that. I wanted to stay fresh the first mile and pick it up. Throughout the race, I felt fresh and better than I did if I went out too fast.”
Miramontes finished eighth, 11 hundredths of a second from seventh and two seconds out of sixth with a time of 18:36.02.
“I was looking for a personal record, but I felt good,” Miamontes said. “It was better than my league race.”
Miramontes will advance to her third state championship race.
“That would be great to go to state,” she said. “That was one of my goals. Last year, I made it with my team.”
“It feels good for Dariana,” said Madera South co-head coach Sky Fierro. “I think she still has more in her. She was top 10 at Valley and was kind of alone. At state, there should be a lot more to push her to her full potential.”
Unfortunately, the Stallions’ boys team, who have been a fixture at the state championships, won’t be represented this year. However, both Fierro and co-head coach Benny Madrigal assures that the Stallions will be back soon after a seventh place finish this year after placing eighth last year.
“I think we’ve had better days, but you have to put it together at Valleys,” Madrigal said.
“It was a lot better than last week,” Fierro said. “A lot of guys pulled themselves together, regrouped and fixed a lot of aches and pains. They ran where they were at the middle of the season. Our No. 2 (German Villavicencio), 3 (Angel Cobian) and 5 (Bailey Montoya) are all returning. It sets us up real good for next year.”
Cobian received accolades from the coaches after his 35th place finish Thursday.
“We had a real good day from Luis (Ortega),” Fierro said. “Angel Cobian, our No. 3. Is a junior and came out of nowhere to break 17 minutes.”
“We’re excited to get him back next year to keep on improving,” Madrigal said.
The Liberty boys cross country team had visions of a top two finish to qualify for the Div. V state championship and accomplished their goal, led by Avila and Devine.
Avila checked in at the first and second mile markers in fourth place and finished fourth with a time of 17:42.42.
“It’s amazing and unreal to go to state again,” Avila said. “I love cross country. I never thought I would. I tried it and absolutely love it.”
Avila, who advanced to state last season as an individual will have some company on Saturday with the rest of his team.
Availa, a senior, figuratively, handed the reigns of the team to freshman Dylan Devine on Thursday. Devine was less than two seconds behind Avila in fifth place.
“That kid has been working so hard all season,” Avila said.
Devine was ninth at the first mile, but checked in fifth at the second mile before finishing behind Avila.
“To have a fourth and a fifth is really fun,” Napier said.
Senior Michael Rivera and freshman Israel Rivera finished 13th and 14th, respectively, and were running with each other the entire race. At the first mile, Israel was 12th, but Michael was 13th. Israel improved to 10th at the second mile while Michael improved to 12th.
Junior Quaid Copher closed out the scoring for fifth on the Liberty team. He was 16th after the first mile, and dropped to 22nd before placing 23rd.
Also, running with the Hawks were Eduardo Gonzalez in 27th place and Gavin Gladders in 48th place.
Sophia Napier earned her third trip to the state championships after a solid finish in the Div. V girls race.
“I don’t think I did the best I could of,” she said. “I did fair with how I feel. I qualified and have one more chance so that’s all that matters.”
Napier ran fifth at the first mile and sixth at the second mile before finishing the race in eighth place with a time of 21:00.15.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “The competition there is amazing. It’s humbling in a way, but honored to compete with the best in the state. I’m excited that I’ll be training with the boys, as much as I can. Hopefully, I’ll be okay after I eat all that Thanksgiving food.”
In addition to the Madera runners, the Chowchilla boys cross country team narrowly lost in its bid for a second straight Div. IV championship.
Led by Connor Borba, who placed second, the Tribe finished 17 points behind Porterville for the championship, but will still advance to the state championship.
Michael Eggert placed ninth to put two Tribe runners in the top 10. Andrea Castaneda placed 13th and Ryan Diaz was 18th. Angel Ramirez closed out the scoring in 52nd place.