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March 1, 2021

Cross Country: Ruelas, Barroso lead the way for Mustangs at CCS

SALINAS—The last time Kaylah Grant ran at Toro Park, she took a wrong turn, adding minutes to her time.
On Saturday, the Live Oak freshman sensation stayed on course, earning a state berth in the process. Grant’s time of 18 minutes, 50 seconds in the Central Coast Section Cross Country Championships at Toro Park was good for fourth place in the Division III race, earning her a spot in the California Interscholastic Federation State Meet at Fresno’s Woodward Park on Nov. 29.
“It feels amazing,” Grant said. “The last time I was here, I went the wrong way and this time my game plan was to stay in the top six. I felt fast out there even though it wasn’t easy.”
Grant was the only state qualifier from the South County schools, but there were other fine performances turned in by runners from Gilroy and Sobrato. Mustangs senior Kairo Barroso didn’t hit a personal record (PR), but was solid nonetheless, finishing in 27th place in the boys’ Division III race in 17:38.
Fellow senior and teammate Sean Kaufman was 44th in 17:59.
Barroso said he wants to run at Hartnell College next year, which is one of the best junior college programs in Northern California. The youngest of three kids but the only runner in his family, Barroso has improved dramatically since his freshman year, when he regularly clocked times in the 22-minute range.
“I knew this would probably be the last race of my high school career, so I gave it my all,” he said. “I felt better on the hills today than when I raced here in the past. Usually on the first hill here I die, but today on the first hill I went up strong and came down smoothly and started pushing it from there.”
Barroso credited his strong push on the hills—he said he passed several runners on Toro’s four hills—to a new technique.
“I usually zigzag on the hills and go side to side, but today I was pushing off of my left leg and balancing on my right,” he said. “I was kind of hopping, and it seemed to work.”
The Gilroy girls also had a nice finish to their season, as sophomore Monica Ruelas (20:59) and freshman Briseida Perez (21:51) finished in 20th and 41st, respectively. Ruelas continued to show strong form, taking 12 seconds off of her previous PR at Toro, which she established two weeks ago in winning the Monterey Bay League Pacific Division Championships.
The Sobrato girls have plenty to be optimistic about, as they placed their lone two runners in the top 25 in the Division III field. Freshman Nicole Owens finished in 18th place in 20:47 and sophomore Kelsey Valentine was 23rd in 21:06.
Despite being a freshman, Grant’s performance wasn’t a surprise. Grant trains with the Wolfpack Running Club, which is one of the top programs in Northern California. Grant comes from a running family and she looked every bit like a seasoned runner from the start of her race.
Sandwiched in between basically the entire Aptos team—the Mariners placed all six of their runners in the top 10—Grant was at the front for the first two miles before settling in just behind the leaders for the final mile.
“I thought they (Aptos) were all going to be up front, and I just wanted to stay there,” Grant said.
Showing poise and strength, Grant ran with control the entire way, displaying the form that led her to three race victories during the regular season.

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