Nine runners. That's it. That is all. Nine returning members. Fortunately for the Gilroy High cross country team, two of them are seniors, who coach Cathy Silva endorses with flying colors.
Silva credits Enrique Villanueva for his mental toughness. She vouches for Noemi Rivera's inherent leadership skills, calling them “invaluable to our program.”
And both of Silva's descriptions of the two senior distance runners played out on cue Wednesday.
On the treacherous rolling terrain of Christmas Hill Park, sun scorched on the final day of a lingering heat wave, Villanueva and Rivera led the young GHS varsity Mustangs into the second Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division Center Meet of the season against San Benito, North Monterey County, Monterey, Alisal, Salinas, Palma (boys) and Notre Dame (girls.)
The 3.15-mile course, takes its toll on most everyone. Longer than other league meet courses, it's tricky backstretch keeps runners honest and usually results in a different set of times.
“Some of the guys are used to running between 15 and 16 minutes,” GHS Art Silva said. “Not today. This is a tough course.”
Villanueva disappeared into the hills at the back half of the park in fourth place, keeping pace with the front of the pack with a 5 minute, 15 seconds opening mile. He ended up placing 23rd out of 43 - Gilroy's top finisher in 19:06.
“He was pushing it. I liked his placement in the race,” Cathy Silva said, as her senior leader wandered aimlessly just trying to recuperate and get his bearings moments after an exhaustive effort.
“The hills and the hot sun on the other side take a lot out of you,” Villanueva said.
But that mental toughness his coach praised him for earlier in the day, didn't allow the captain to waiver under the pressure.
“It's a new thing. I'm used to having a bunch of seniors telling me what to do,” Villanueva said. “But it's good for me, because I'm learning a lot about myself, like knowing when to push myself and not giving up. It's all mental.”
Rivera, meanwhile, had her team-leader instincts kick in while her male counterparts navigated the course, instructing the girls group through warm-up routines.
During the girls race, she and freshman understudy Karla Lozano, set the tempo for the Mustangs. The pair came across the finish line almost simultaneously, with Lozano in 27th (24:22) and Rivera in 28th (24:24.)
“I think it's the hardest one we run all season,” Rivera said.
And about her freshman companion?
“I'm really proud of her. She's a freshman and is doing pretty good,” Rivera added.
More than ever this season, team cohesion has taken the forefront in a usually individual sport. Encouragement goes the extra mile in more ways than one.
“With this year's group there is a want to be a team - not just varsity, junior varsity and frosh - but one big team,” Silva said.
Rivera provided the perfect example, racing to the starting line to root for her fellow Mustangs as the junior varsity race commenced.
“I like helping my teammates. I was really excited for this season, especially since it's my last year. I'm just trying to have fun with everyone,” she said.
“I always tell them to be positive, push themselves, try their best and have fun. I tell them not to feel bad if we don't do exactly what we want. As long as we try our best, that's all we can do.”
Other GHS varsity times
Boys: Jorge Murillo – 20:37; Bryan Kachakji – 20:41; Michael Kropff – 21:16; William Cho - 22:55.
Girls: Jackelyn Gomez Gonzalez – 26:18; Eva Fernandez – 28:22; Sandra Torres – 30:14; Blanca Becerra Canales – 31:14.
Boys: 1. Alisal (45 points); 2. Salinas (58); 3. North Monterey County (68); 4. San Benito (85); 5. Monterey (89); 6. Palma (166); 7. Gilroy (180.) Top time: Steven Velarde (San Benito) – 17:07.
Girls: 1. San Benito (36 points); 2. Salinas (44); 3. Alisal (89); 4. North Monterey County (99); 5. Notre Dame (104); 6. Monterey (136); 7. Gilroy (183.) Top time: Vanessa Estrada (San Benito) – 19:11.