WATSONVILLE — Last season, Watsonville senior distance runner Daniela Salazar almost single-handedly carried the team to a league championship.
This season, Salazar, a Central Coast Section finalist and the program’s 800-meter record holder, has some help.
Watsonville star freshman cross country runner Layla Ruiz is now on the track, and is bolstering the Wildcatz’ chances of returning to the top of the Monterey Bay League Pacific division. Watsonville has finished second each of the last two seasons, but head coach Rob Cornett hopes the dynamic duo will be enough to get his squad over the hump.
“That’s a pretty good combo, and the good thing with them is they just want to work,” Cornett said. “It rubs off on the others.”
Along with Salazar and Ruiz, Watsonville also has seniors Jackie Barocio and Annah Ramirez returning. Barocio is the Wildcatz’s top jumper, and Ramirez will run in both the sprints and distance races.
Senior Julisa Vega, the basketball team’s star 6-foot-2 center, is also back and is expected to be the team’s top thrower.
Watsonville will be without the services of distance runner Stephanie Villa and thrower Daniela Castro, a pair of standouts whom graduated, but that’s where Ruiz steps in.
Voted the top freshman cross country runner in all of Northern California in the fall, Ruiz is already off to a hot start, showing well in the team’s first meet of the season — the Wildcat Relays on Saturday.
Cornett said Ruiz, who, with Salazar, became the first female Watsonville runner to qualify for the state cross country meet since 2000, has the potential to obliterate the program’s record book over the next four years. She is expected to compete in all three distance races this season — 800, 1,600 and 3,200 — along with Salazar.
“She’s working hard, too,” Cornett said. “She wants some of those records, too.”
Here is a look at the rest of the area’s track teams:
The Mariners have a solid crop of athletes once again but will have a tough time trying to win the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League team title with the Santa Cruz Cardinals overflowing with athleticism in nearly every event.
Still, sophomore Brynn Mitchell is one of the area’s top athletes in the long jump and triple jump, and fellow sophomore Rebecca Sampson and senior Sachi Land, who will also run in the sprints, are both right on her heels.
Senior distance ace Marea Zlatunich is back, and is one of the league’s heavy favorites to not only advance to the CCS meet, but make state after placing in the top five at the section finals each of the last three seasons.
Seniors Annika Niles and Sofia Natividad are also expected to help the Mariners’ cause come league finals.
Junior Emma Burke and sophomore Kylie Bennett return for Aptos in the sprints, and will make up half of the team’s stellar 4x100 relay team.
CEIBA COLLEGE PREP
The Spartans are in their first season as a track and field squad.
They impressively have 23 athletes on their roster, and will compete in
MONTE VISTA CHRISTIAN
Sophomore Delaney Ezeji-Okoye is a year removed from advancing to the CCS finals in the pole vault, and is expected to be one of the favorites to return to that stage once again.
Along with the pole vault, Ezeji-Okoye will run in the sprints for M.V.C., which has 14 athletes on its roster and will compete in the MBL-Pacific division.
The Mustangs also have sophomore Sophia Willoughby, a tough distance runner, and Genny Jensen, a hurdler, back.
The Hawks have a handful of athletes that impressed a week ago at their first SCCAL dual meet of the season.
Sophomore Paloa Jacobs, a star outside hitter for the school’s volleyball team, has stepped in nicely for Mt. Madonna in the high jump and shot put, winning both against Scotts Valley and Aptos. She also run sprints for the Hawks.
Senior thrower Jocelyn Cazarez is the Condors’ top athlete this season, and is fresh off qualifying for the CCS meet in the discus in 2017.
Fellow senior throwers Katelyn James and Nicole Anastacio will also help N.M.C. compete against the powerhouses of the MBL-Gabilan division.
The Condors have a massive team almost reaching the triple digits. They have solid depth in the distance races with senior Sarah Delgado and juniors Daniela Munoz and Faith Mora leading the way.
Junior Jayleen Solorzano and senior Emma Arroyo, both of whom are sprinters, buoy a youthful Pajaro Valley team, which also features junior Sofia Nolasco in the throws.
The Grizzlies have 27 on their roster, and are in the MBL-Pacific division.
Senior Samantha Bellucci headlines the Sharks’ small squad of 14, and will challenge for the SCCAL title in the long jump and triple jump. She will also compete in the high jump.
Seniors Emma Ryan and Chloe Deleissegues will also challenge late in the season for St. Francis.