Gilroy cross country on the fast track

Karina Rodriguez, Maddie Eastus and Arianna Bundros are three key members of the Mustangs. Photo by Robert Eliason.

In a sport where it’s a race against the clock, Maddie Eastus performs a delicate balancing act. The Gilroy High sophomore has been the team’s second fastest runner on the girls cross country team this season; however, Eastus also has club soccer practices in the evenings. By the time Eastus gets to soccer practice, she will already have run up to six miles, depending on the workout of the day. 

“Yeah, it’s a lot, but I love both sports,” she said. “It’s fun to do both.”

Eastus is part of a Gilroy team that finished fourth in the varsity race of the Crystal Springs Invitational in Belmont last Saturday, a strong event that featured great competition and shows the Mustangs are running strong. Gilroy edged Sacred Heart Cathedral for the fourth spot, finishing with 132 points. 

Freshman Karina Rodriguez took 15th overall in 20 minutes, 25.16 seconds over the famed 2.95-mile course, which is the site of this year’s Central Coast Section Championships. Junior Marianna Bundros finished 30th in 20:58.63, Eastus was 31st in 21:00.10, sophomore Kayla Flores was 40th in 21:22.48, freshman Katherine Turk was 44th in 21:25.40, sophomore Anna Turk was 48th in 21:30.20 and junior Emily Alcoran was 52nd in 21:38.14 as the Mustangs placed their entire seven-person lineup in the top 52 of a competitive race. 

Cathy Silva and Art Silva have been coaching the program for 15 years, and Cathy Silva said this year’s team has a superior team chemistry that allows it to run at its optimal best. 

“They’re competitive as far as helping to push each other to be their best, but they’re not competitive against each other,” she said. “It’s all about supporting each other, and it’s so fun coaching kids who have that kind of mindset. The support system they have going for each other is a big part of doing well and feeling so strong mentally.”

The cohesiveness comes out in tangible ways. Take the Gilroy boys team, for example. At the second Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division meet on Oct. 4, the Mustangs had an impressive fourth-place showing, with freshman sensation Nicholas Guzman taking seventh in 17:14 and senior Noe Serafio finishing ninth in 17:16. 

Gilroy’s next three finishers—seniors Lucas Bundros (18:20) and Alberto Bedolla (18:23) and sophomore Arturo Perez (18:23)—all finished together, taking 31st, 32nd and 33rd, respectively. By running together, the boys pushed each other to faster times.

“It helps them mentally when you’ve got teammates around you,” Silva said. “It keeps them going the entire race. They pack run and train so well as a group.”

In addition to the aforementioned boys, sophomore Anthony Rodriguez (86th) and junior Andres Nava Garcia (89th) ran at Crystal Springs. On the girls side, junior Aphrodite Ayala has played a key role this season, especially in the second league meet when the team took first overall with 66 points, edging San Benito in the process. 

Ayala finished 17th overall in that race in 22:06.40 at Christmas Hill Park. The team victory was critical on many fronts, as San Benito has either won or taken second in league for the better part of a decade. However, Gilroy showed it will be in contention to take its first league championship in the upper division for the first time in a long time. The last time the Mustangs won in the upper division was in 2009. 

“It was exciting to win on our home course,” Eastus said. “It showed if we work together and work as a pack, we can beat San Benito.”

The fact that 24 of the 26 kids in the program—covering the varsity and junior varsity boys and girls teams—earned season personal-records (PRs) made the race all the more rewarding. 

“For the kids to run so well, oh my gosh,” Silva said. “It was so much fun to watch them and they were so pumped up. We were expecting to run well, but not expecting all of them to PR because that just doesn’t happen in the same race. It was incredible.”

Everyone on the team brings their own unique skill set or talents, and several runners speak up and are able to lead the team vocally. On the girls side, that includes senior Marissa Galvan, who was on the varsity last year but is on the JV squad this season due to Gilroy’s superior talent and depth on the varsity this season. Yet is says a lot about the makeup of the Mustangs that the varsity girls take in what Galvan has to say. 

“Marissa has been really helpful, and it’s good for them to have that leadership and calm, mature voice,” Silva said. 

Whenever Eastus is struggling and sees Rodriguez ahead, it can’t help but to push her and stay strong. 

“She pushes me to go faster, and I try to keep up with her and vice versa,” Eastus said. 

Youth has definitely been served for Gilroy, as Rodriguez and Guzman have come on strong in their freshmen year. Silva watched Rodriguez in middle school and knew she was a pure runner. 

“She just loves to run and has a feisty personality to go with it,” Silva said. “She takes on the course, pushes herself to the limit in workouts and then will smile at you when she’s done. It’s just infectious how she gets the team pumped up and then everyone starts laughing and giggling. And with Nicholas even though he is a freshman, he’s a seasoned runner because he was running club before high school. He just wants to keep on improving and has a great mindset to do so. He has shown a lot and we can’t wait to see what he does this year and the coming years. He’s pretty special.”

The majority—if not all—of the team’s runners have improved since the season began, and Bundros has made a strong impression with her running form. 

“Marianna’s stride is phenomenal,” Silva said. “She’s got this beautiful stride and every time she runs, she’s getting faster.”

The Mustangs are rolling, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. 

“We’ll just ride this high that we’re on right now,” Silva said.