Gilroy’s Rodriguez, Mantilla win titles

Mustangs junior Marcela Mantilla had a terrific performance in the PCAL Mission Division Finals.

Led by Karina Rodriguez and Marcela Mantilla, the Gilroy High girls track and field team finished second in the Pacific Coast League Mission Division Championships last Friday at King City High. On the boys side among local athletes, Christopher High junior Keola Sylva had no problem winning the triple jump at 42 feet, 11 ½ inches, which is actually considered subpar for him given what he’s accomplished in his burgeoning career. 

No matter, as Sylva looks to peak at the upcoming Masters Meet and then the CCS Championships. Rodriguez, a rising star as a freshman, won the 800-meter race in a personal-record (PR) of 2 minutes, 27.31 seconds, and finished in second place in the 3200 in a PR of 12:12..02. Two individual events, two PRs? The present and the future bodes well for Rodriguez, who last fall was one of the best cross country runners in the PCAL. 

“It was really exciting, especially because I PRd in my races,” she said. “I didn’t expect this first year to get all league, so it’s been great.”

Said Gilroy coach Todd Ruskauff: “Karina has been a stud, and she’s been a joy to work with, too. She ran a great race, which was not a surprise.”

Rodriguez has big goals, namely to set the school record in the 800, which she said stands at 2:22. Given the fact Rodriguez shows signs of only getting faster, she has a realistic chance to break that record, perhaps before her senior season. 

“Since I started track in the sixth grade, I’ve always thought I was a mid distance runner,” she said. “Even though I’ve always liked cross country, I’ve always felt the 800 was my best event.”

No one in the Mission Division could argue that as Rodriguez led from start to finish to cruise to victory. Rodriguez is still relatively inexperienced when it comes to the 3200 meter run, but given time and experience, she has the ability to excel at that distance. Speaking of excelling, that’s exactly what Mantilla has been doing ever since she arrived at Gilroy High. 

Although this season hasn’t gone as planned—the Mustangs have no jumps or sprints coach—Mantilla and her fellow sprinters and jumpers remained steadfast and resolute to accomplish their goals and produce some special performances along the way. The junior standout won the 100 hurdles in 16.63 and was second in the 300 in 50.94. 

She also took second in the long jump with a mark of 15-5 ½ after going 16-0 ½ in the PCAL Trials and was a part of the team’s 4×400 relay squad that finished fourth. Mantilla said she was thankful to still have her hurdles coach after last year’s sprints and jumps coach did not return this season. 

“It’s been hard for a lot of us with different coaching and everything, but I have to put it out of my mind, have fun and not worry about it because I always do my best when I tell myself I love running hurdles,” she said. “The 100 hurdles was a pretty clean race, and I’m hoping to get down to the 15s before the season is over.” Mustangs coach Todd Ruskauff said he expects great things from Mantilla going forward.  

“She’s a really hard worker (and) did a fair amount of off-season training,” he said. “Coach Una Dia has been working a lot with her. … You can’t keep a work ethic like that down. I’m glad we have her for another year.”

Mantilla showed her leadership in the off-season, organizing workouts for returning members and prospective members of the team. 

“We lost so many of our coaches and knew people were getting discouraged to do track,” she said. “Doing workouts together gave them confidence to still sprint even though we had no (sprints) coach.” 

This is Mantilla’s first season competing in the long jump, and she’s proven to be a natural at it. Despite not practicing the discipline due to the focus on hurdles, Mantilla has produced some impressive marks in the event and plans to focus on the event in the off-season and into next season, as she sees her potential in the event. Dariana Rodriguez was the only other Gilroy girl who had a top three finish, taking third in the 400 in 1:05.77. 

Besides Sylva, other Christopher High athletes who had top three finishes in the Gabilan Division Championships included freshman Avana Lee, who took third in the girls shot put at 29-7; sophomore Liliana Jimenez, who finished third in the discus with a mark of 94-2; freshman Ava Shanrock, who took third in the high jump in 4-8; sophomore Alexis Bembry, who placed third in the triple jump at 33 feet even; and senior Domenic Fortino, who placed third in in the boys discus in 131-10.

This season the Cougars have been solid in the field events, with coach Jeff Myers crediting throws coach Richard Martinez and jumps coach Carmen Patane for developing young talent and honing them as they age up each grade level.

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