SALINAS — The best finish at the Central Coast Section meet in program history.
The program’s top time on the 5-kilometer Toro Park course.
Another trip to the California Interscholastic Federation Cross Country Championships.
“With all the bumps and bruises I’ve had all year, to get here, I’m really happy,” said Watsonville sophomore Layla Ruiz, “and my season’s not over.”
Her return to the CIF state meet was almost a forgone conclusion.
The hardware she would carry to the Central Valley, however, was up in the air until the final 800 meters of Sunday’s CCS Championships.
Ruiz, battling through nagging leg injuries over the course of the season, hung with Carlmont junior Kaimei Gescuk as long as she could, but could not close the gap down the final stretch of the Division I race.
Gescuck zoomed through the course to record the fastest time of the day, 18 minutes, 19.6 seconds, and edge Ruiz for the section crown.
Ruiz, a third-place finisher in the same race last season, clocked in a 18:45.8.
It was the sixth fastest time of the day, and Ruiz’s personal best by more than 20 seconds.
It was also just her fifth race of the year because of the aforementioned “bumps and bruises.”
Watsonville sophomore Layla Ruiz is heading back to the CIF state meet after a runner-up finish in the CCS D-I race on Sunday at Toro Park in Salinas. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
“Put that all together, with all the injuries she’s had all year…that’s an amazing race for her,” said Watsonville coach Rob Cornett.
And Ruiz, the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress division champ, will have at least one more race before the end of her fall season.
Watsonville’s star runner will again make the trip to Woodward Park in Fresno for the state meet on Saturday.
Aptos senior Josiah Sweet, St. Francis senior E.J. Kelly and Ceiba College Prep freshman Nellie Rubio-Pintor will join her amongst the top high school runners California has to offer.
Sweet finished sixth in the boys Division III race to help Aptos finish third as a team — one spot off of qualifying for state.
He completed the course in 17:03.4 to earn his second trip to Fresno.
Kelly, the PCAL-Santa Lucia champion, took seventh in the boys Division V race at 17:28.6 to advance to state for the fourth straight season.
And Rubio-Pintor squeaked into state by taking ninth in the girls D-V race with a time of 20:51.0.
“It’s going to be fun going back for the fourth year,” Kelly said. “The opportunity to represent my team, my school, the community around me…that’s what high school sports are about.”
St. Francis senior E.J. Kelly, second from right, earned his fourth straight trip to the CIF state meet at Sunday's CCS Cross Country Championships in Salinas. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
Kelly’s schedule leading up to state will be a bit different this time around. Runners from the CCS will only have a week to prepare for the state meet instead of the usual two, because the section finals were pushed back to due to poor air quality stemming from the Camp Fire near Chico.
The CCS meet was originally scheduled for Nov. 10 at Crystal Spring Cross Country Course in Belmont, but it was rescheduled three times over the course of a week.
The postponements provided another mental hurdle for some, and a physical one for others.
In Watsonville, the Wildcatz welcomed the Sharks into their fitness room to use the treadmills and stationary bikes when air quality in the city dipped below acceptable levels earlier in the week.
Ceiba coach Donna LeFever said Rubio-Pintor wasn’t able to practice much throughout the week either, because of their lack of facilities.
“This last week was tough,” LeFever said. “I told her that coming into it, ‘just be really excited you made it to compete with these elite runners. You’re the best of the best of this area, and we’re going to see how this race goes.’”
It went pretty well, as Rubio-Pintor became the program’s inaugural section and state qualifier in its first season as a member of the CCS.
Rubio-Pintor started out the year in the junior varsity ranks, and was only hoping to use the fall sport as conditioning for soccer in the winter. But after winning her first race by a wide margin, LeFever decided to move Rubio-Pintor up to the varsity level, where she eventually finished runner-up in the PCAL-Santa Lucia.
“Running three miles is still crazy to me, especially with all the hills,” Rubio-Pintor said. “It’s a new level to me. Cross country is really fun, and it’s very competitive.”
Freshman Nellie Rubio-Pintor (113) is Ceiba College Prep's inaugural section and state qualifier. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
North Monterey County senior Faith Mora and Aptos junior Kailea Zlatunich just missed the individual cut for state in the girls D-III race, taking ninth (20:12.6) and 10th (20:13.7), respectively.
Kelly’s brilliance paired with solid days from juniors Patrick McCarthy (16th, 18:18.7) and Paul Kane (18:21.2) nearly pushed St. Francis into the state meet as a team, but the Sharks finished fourth in D-V.
N.M.C.’s girls took fifth as a team in D-III.
St. Francis’ girls, champions of the PCAL-Santa Lucia, finished fifth in in D-V. Junior Angelika Castro paced the Sharks in 21st (22:15.3).
Monte Vista Christian's boys, champions of the PCAL-Santa Lucia, placed 11th in D-IV. Sophomore Andrew Bachman led the Mustangs in 29th (17:22.4).