Prep Cross Country: Full of Surprises

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Gilroy's cross country runners Monica Ruelas and Kairo Barrosa.

GILROY—Kairo Barrosa’s prayers were answered last season. After two years of missing the cut, the then-junior at Gilroy High received word that he would be competing in the Central Coast Section cross country tournament and he found out while sitting in church of all places.
“I didn’t know how to hold down the feeling,” Barrosa said as he re-enacted his reaction of clasping his hand over his mouth.
It was a season of surprises for the Mustangs who saw the boys and girls teams finish first and second in the Monterey Bay League, respectively. Gilroy also brought home the Avis Kelley Trophy—which bares the name of the 30-year GHS cross country and track and field coach—for the first time in more than 20 years. The trophy is awarded to the overall program—frosh/soph, JV and varsity—with the most potential. But most surprising of all was freshman standout Monica Ruelas qualifying for the CCS tournament.
“We expected her (Ruelas) to be not as developed as she was because she’s a freshman, but she really stepped up to the plate,” Mustangs coach Cathy Silva said. “She’s very competitive and she wants to do well. …That was a huge bonus for us and it meant a lot to the rest of the girls because then there was someone who was really pushing them and they all wanted to do better.”
Silva and her husband and co-coach, Art, were just as surprised when the boys and girls teams united to celebrate what she calls “true team spirit,” in other words acting as one unit—not ones separated by gender. They carried that attitude throughout the year and at the end of track and field season already had their eyes on cross country and were ready to begin training. Cathy said she told them they wouldn’t be coaching them over the summer, so Barrosa and fellow senior teammate Michael Kropff rallied their teammates to go running.
“We’ll be out walking and we’ll see kids running by and they’ll be like ‘Hey, coach!’ It’s working and they’re taking ownership for what they’re doing which is what you want them to do and have pride in it,” Cathy said. “This year we’re expecting to have that same bonding to occur which means the kids will do even better.”
This season, the Mustangs are ready to defy expectations once again. Though they have lost several key pieces to graduation—such as Blanca Becerra—both teams will feature veteran runners. In addition to Barrosa and Kropff, Jonathan Viveros will also lace up his shoes for the boys team. Viveros joined Barossa at the CCS tournament, taking 45th overall.
The girls side features more surprises as senior Maria Trujillo returns, looking stronger and faster than ever. Cathy said they were stunned to see Trujillo training—not jogging, but full blown running—over the summer. She was diagnosed with asthma last year, triggered by running in the heat, but told her coaches she’s conquered it.
Until they know who will actually show up to compete, Cathy said her and her husband try not to plan what they think the team will be. The Mustangs will have a clearer picture of their season when official practice gets underway today. The season starts at 2 p.m. Sept. 3 when Gilroy competes in the 3rd annual Watermelon Run at Pinto Lake in Watsonville. The first “home” meet, Center Meet I, will be at 2 p.m. Sept. 24 at Christmas Hill Park.
It’s a long season, but Ruelas and Barrosa already have their sights set on the CCS Championships. The pair—who also both play soccer and compete in track and field—have set the bar even higher for themselves this season and have one goal in mind: make it to state.
“I want to go to state,” Ruelas said. “I’m going to have to train really, really hard—like double from what I did last year.”
Cathy said she’s hoping the team can find the “beast mode” spirit they did last year. Barrosa has even earned himself that nickname as the coaches see him transform before their eyes during the toughest parts of the races.
“Kairo, in his face you can see it take over,” Cathy said. “You look at him in pictures and the look on his face is beast mode. He has this inner person that comes in and takes over his body and helps him get through those hills. It’s fun to see.”
For Barrosa, however, it’s not about what he does individually. Instead, he said he’s always looking to help the Mustangs to best finish possible.
“You want your teammates to do really good; you don’t just want yourself out there,” Barrosa said. “You always want your teammates to do good. You do anything you can to help your teammates get a faster time.”
The Silvas believe the team will be just as strong and bonded as it was last season and they hope to inspire the camaraderie from Day 1. The Mustangs will receive their new season t-shirts today at practice and on it, a quote from Henry Ford with a message the coaches hope their team will carry out through the season:
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”
Gilroy’s season will get underway at 2 p.m. Sept. 3 when it competes in the 3rd annual Watermelon Run at Pinto Lake in Watsonville.

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