SALINAS — Aptos High’s usual third runner had a tough day.
It didn’t matter and the Mariners weren’t worried.
“If one person falls back somebody is for sure going to step it up,” said Aptos senior Koya Oki.
Aptos once again used its depth to continue its season-long dominance on Saturday morning, placing its five scoring runners within the top 18 of the Division III race and capturing the program’s first Central Coast Section title since 2013.
After hanging back in eighth for the majority of the 3-mile Toro Park course, Oki exploded down the final 800 meters to take second overall in 16 minutes, 19.9 seconds. Fellow senior Jorge Benitez was third in 16:21.7.
The duo finished right on the heels of Westmont High’s Jason Gomez, who took the D-III individual title with a time of 16:16.9.
Aptos senior Jackson Schenone started a little too strong and fell back late, finishing 21st (17:02.2), but the rest of the Mariners picked up the slack to edge second place Greenfield High, 44-54.
It's the program’s fourth CCS title overall.
Senior Luis Garcia was 13th (16:42.0), junior Josiah Sweet trailed him in 14th (16:43.3) and senior Matthew Quinn gutted out a tough race to take 18th (16:56.2). Senior Freddy Von Oepen (46th, 17:40.7) also ran for Aptos, which last week repeated as the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion in a blowout.
“As a team we all have the capability to step it up since we’re all really close with each other,” Benitez said. “It’s not a surprise to me that we were able to pull it together even though we had someone fall back.”
The Mariners will advance to Nov. 25’s California Interscholastic Federation state championship at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Aptos head coach Dan Gruber said he hopes his Mariners, who are making their first appearance at state since 2014, can finish in the top 10 or above.
Benitez said it would be the experience of a lifetime.
“It’s going to be a party,” he joked.
The Mariners won’t be the lone locals making the trip to the Central Valley in two weeks.
St. Francis High junior E.J. Kelly raced to a third-place finish in the Division V race with a time of 16:55.4 to advance.
It will be his third straight trip to state. Saturday also marked the third straight season he finished within the top three in the CCS D-V race.
A seventh-place finisher at last week’s SCCAL finals, Kelly said the brutally tough competition in the league over the years has helped prepare him for bigger stages like CCS.
“Having that experience helps get to that last 800 meters and be able to lock in and put my head down and finish hard,” Kelly said. “It helped having that training behind me and having a strong base, strong team, strong school and strong community behind me as well.”
Kelly will be the lone Shark making the trip to Fresno. St. Francis finished fifth as a team in D-V. Nueva School edged Crystal Springs by nine points for the team title.
Crystal Springs' one-two punch of senior Nicholas Medearis and junior Aiden Duncanson finished ahead of the Sharks' speedster in first (15:59.0) and second (16:38.6), respectively.
Kelly said he plans to train with Aptos for a couple of days over the next few weeks to get an extra push before heading to state.
“That’s a great team right there,” Kelly said. “They’re a great group of guys. Being able to train with my team, too, and have that back and forth has been phenomenal.”
North Monterey County High took ninth in D-III.
Senior Edgar Medina was the Condors’ top finisher. He placed 30th (17:17.5).
In D-I, Watsonville High finished 15th.
Sophomore Miguel Leon led the Wildcatz in 56th (17:32.7).