After coming on strong in the regular-season league meets, the Gilroy High girls cross country team stamped itself as the favorite to win last Saturday’s Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships at Toro Park in Salinas. The Mustangs didn’t disappoint, as they totaled 66 points to win by a rather comfortable 14 places over runner-up San Benito High. Gilroy hasn’t competed in the upper division for several years, making this year’s title all the more rewarding.
“We were all super happy and really proud for each other,” said freshman sensation Karina Rodriguez, who finished fourth overall in 20 minutes, 41 seconds. “It was a really proud moment, especially since we’ve been working together since the beginning of the summer. I was really nervous waiting for the result to come in because I was thinking about how much we’ve all improved since the beginning of the season. It’s unbelievable and pretty crazy when you think about it.”
Indeed, the Mustangs have all made dramatic strides since they started summer conditioning workouts, with Rodriguez two minutes faster from that point. Once again, the Mustangs did it with a formula that has worked all season. Their five scoring runners all placed in the top 20, including Rodriguez, junior Marianna Bundros (13th in 21:28), junior Emily Alcoran (14th in 21:31), sophomore Kayla Flores (17th in 21:41) and sophomore Anna Turk (18th in 21:42).
Here’s the incredible part: The Mustangs’ sixth and seventh runners—who are used for scoring purposes in the unlikely event of a tiebreaker—were right there at the end. Sophomore Maddie Eastus (20th in 21:50) and freshman Katherine Turk (24th in 22:03) showed the team’s tremendous depth and talent. In most cases, the sixth and seventh scoring runners on a team finish outside the top 30—usually in the 40s or 50s.
However, Gilroy has something special going within its entire program. To wit: The junior varsity team took the first five spots in its race, covering the same course and distance at Toro Park. Sophomore Angelina Gonzalez won the individual title in 21:37, which would’ve placed her as the fourth fastest runner had she run in the varsity race. Gilroy has a pack of runners who are so close in ability and talent that it makes coaches Art and Cathy Silva’s job of putting out the best seven runners for a given race a crapshoot, because the results will just depend on who is having the better race that day.
“I’ve never had a team like this before, when you can just switch them around and see no drop off,” Silva said. “The JV girls are almost as good as the varsity girls. We’ve had great teams in the past, but this one ranks right up there with the best of the best.”
For a team to win a competitive championship race, it needs at least one or two runners to set a personal-record (PR). Bundros, Alcoran, Flores and Anna Turk all set PRs at Toro Park, which was key to the team’s first-place finish. Alcoran provided a huge boost with her breakthrough performance. Alcoran, who had raced most of the season on the junior varsity team, has run so strong in the last month that she needed to be placed on the varsity.
“Emily is the happiest kid on a team of happy kids,” Silva said.
Besides having ability and talent, the Gilroy High runners are fast because of their work ethic and bond, the latter playing a crucial role in faster times. When teammates can run together and push each other while on the course, it lends itself to faster times.
“We have this bond and connection and really get along like a close family,” Rodriguez said.
Said Silva: “They have this great chemistry, and there is really no jealously amongst them selves. It’s just a fun atmosphere of good characters and self-disciplined kids. I can go on and on of how great these kids are.”
Silva said the majority of the runners showed up for the key summer workouts, which gave them a solid base for running and prepared them for the rigors of the season. The Mustangs are truly a special group, with Marissa Galvan—who was the team’s sixth-place runner in the JV race—serving as a key figure for the entire program.
“Marissa is one kid who stands out in that she keeps all the girls together,” Silva said. “She braids their hair and is kind of a captain if you will. She is not our best runner, but she is always there and makes it to every practice despite working two jobs while also having a 4.0 GPA.”
Rodriguez has a pure love for running, a key to her improvement and standing. Whether it’s in practice or a race, Rodriguez thinks about her family, fueling her motivation. Her grandfather, Benjamin Cadena, is one of her biggest fans and supporters, and Rodriguez loves nothing more than to put a smile on his face.
“I think about him and my family a lot in a race,” she said.
The Gilroy boys took fifth in the Gabilan Division Championships, with freshman Nicholas Guzman taking sixth in 16:46 and senior Noe Serafio finishing 23rd in 17:41. Guzman, like Rodriguez, has come on strong in his first year of high school. He’ll be a force on the cross country scene for many years, with the potential to contend for an individual section title if things break right.