It was almost 15 months to the day since Martin Luther King seniors Francisco Zavaleta and Edger Ortega had last toed the line with their cross- country teammates. They waited anxiously for the gun and when that signal for the beginning of the race went off, they moved forward along with 33 other competitors. At the finish line, it wasn’t necessarily about the time they ran or the place they finished. “It was exciting just to be racing again,” Zavlaeta said after his first-place finish on the 3-mile course on the King campus. Ortega, who was a close second, said “It felt like a blessing. To have the whole process back, from getting up in the morning of competition through to the finish line, felt really good.”
That sentiment rang true throughout not just in Riverside this past Saturday Feb. 6, but the entire CIF (SS) as high school cross country teams resumed action in what are the first competitions of any kind since the COVID shutdown began in March, 2020. On Sat. Jan. 30, Riverside Ramona hosted Riverside Arlington in the first such competition in the CIF Southern Section. Those two schools, teams and coaches opened the door and others are now rushing through to try and get a season in. The COVID crisis has put most high school sports in California at risk of shortened seasons or complete cancelation. Cross Country is one of 5 sports (track, swimming, tennis and golf being the others) that is being allowed to compete despite being in the state’s purple tier. All other CIF sports will have to wait until Riverside County gets into the various other levels of lessening COVID numbers in order to have a season.
It has not been an easy road for anybody in getting to this point. Ramona coach Ralm Jung had five racing plans go by the wayside before one was finally accepted for the Jan. 30 meet. “It’s been a bit of a merry-ground”, said Jung. “There are just a number of things that need to fall in line to make it safe for everyone involved and we’re working on how to make it even safer.” M.L. King Coach Brad Peters who hosted the Big VIII League’s duals at his school concurred with Jung. “Trying to put ALL the protocols that are being set forth by the various governance groups into a single plan has been the hard part. We are answerable to the State, the County, the CIF and each of our districts in regard to how to make this work. Everybody involved in this, throughout the Southern Section, has had to be very flexible and patient. It felt really good to see that first race go off.”
“I felt like today was a great success for our league and our community,” said King Athletic Director Getty George. ’It’s a good first step but there is still a lot to iron out as we move forward. It was great to see the kids compete. It’s been way too long.” Riverside Poly AD Jim Vaughan, whose team competed in Hemet remarked, “You could tell that nobody cared much for times and places. It was about getting out and competing again. It’s a good beginning.”
In King’s dual meet with Corona Centennial High, the King girls won 17-44. King Junior Andrea Guadian was the girls race winner in a time of 19:36. Her teammates, Audrey Brunken and Justine Marshall, rounded out the top 3 finishers. MLK’s boys team won 15-50 sweeping the first 9 places. Zavaleta ran a 16:02 in his victory followed by Ortega’s 16:07.
There are 6 Riverside schools in the River Valley League and they all competed on Saturday. The RVL has opted to basically compete in “friendlies” until League Finals and so no score is kept. Juan Espino of Ramona ran away from the pack and scored a first place in 16:04 as the Rams raced with Norte Vista on their home campus. Ernesto Ruiz was second for the Coach Rafael Perez’s Braves with a time of 16:59. On the girl’s side, Novi swept the first three places paced by Amelia Mercado in 22:04. The Patriot High School boys team had their way over at La Sierra High School as the Warriors placed 4 in the top 5 finishers. The only Eagle to crack to into that pack was Erik Horowitz who finished second by six seconds to Patriot’s Masaki Mendoza who finished at 17:02. The La Sierra girls turned the tables in their race and took 4 of the first 5 places. Patriot freshman Natalia Chavez was the race winner followed by the Eagle’s Lizbeth Belman in second place. Hillcrest’s Sydney Harpster navigated the course at Arlington for a first place in the girls race at 20:32. Anna Raspudic was the Lions top finisher in second place at 21:18. On the boy’s side, senior Joseph Ensley of Arlington was the winner while Jared Castaneda of Hillcrest was second.
Riverside Poly and Hemet competed at Diamond Valley Lake Community Park against the Bulldogs. Hemet was at a bit of a disadvantage as they had shut workouts down after the last stay at home order and had just started getting back to practice this past week. The Bears, having continued to work out as had other numerous other schools under the COVID guidelines, ran away with the meet sweeping the top 5 spots in both races. Nicandro Rosas won the boys race for the Bears at 17:31 while fellow Poly senior Kalista Tibbels was a first-place winner at 20:11 for the girls.
Top 5 Varsity Finishers in each dual meet-Sat. Feb. 6, 2021
M.L.K vs. Centennial
Boys- 1) Francisco Zavaleta (MLK)-16:02 2) Edgar Ortega-(MLK)-16:07 3) Gray Mavhera-(MLK)16:39 4) Jack Slavin (MLK)-17:03 5) Damien Zemanek(MLK)-17:21
Girls- 1) Andrea Guadian(MLK)-19:36 2) Audrey Brunken (MLK)-19:36 3) Justine Marshall (MLK)-20:25 4) Evenie Fuentes (MLK)-21:16 5) Hailey Quiroz (C)-21:29
Ramona vs. Norte Vista
Boys -1) Juan Espino- R-16:04 2) Ernesto Ruiz (NV)-16:59 3) Eric Olivo (NV)-17:27 4) Jezael Soto-(R) -17:34-5) Carson Menter-(NV)-17:43
Girls-1) Amelia Mercado-(NV)-22:04 2) Ashley Magana-(NV)-22:16 3) Citlaly Ruiz- (NV)-22:32 4) Jazmin Mazon -R-22:58 5) Nataly Joya (NV)-23:08
Patriot vs. La Sierra
Boys- 1) Masaki Mendoza-(P)-17:02 2) Erick Horowitz-(LS)-17:08 3) Aidan Ruiz-(P)-17:18 4) Marquis Bryant-(P)-18:34 5) Raymond Villamueva (P)-18:38
Girls-1) Natalia Chavez-(P)-23:41 2) Lizbeth Belman-(LS)-24:09 3) Anna Esparza-(LS)-24:29 4) Keylee Zavala-(LS)-26:33 5) Miranda Palomino Robbins-(LS)-28:11
Boys-1) Joseph Ensley-(A)-17:38 2) Jared Castaneda(H)-18:11 3) Andres Gomez-(H)-18:32 4) Alan Carriedo- (H)-18:49 5) Carlos Jaramillo-(H)-18:59
Girls-1) Sydney Harpster-(H)-20:32 2) Anna Raspudic (A)-21:18 3) Karlee Littler-(A) -21:23 4) Kaylynn Survillas-(H)-22:36 5) Ocean Rideout-(A)- 22:44
Riverside Poly vs. Hemet
Boys-1) Nicandro Rosas-(P)-17:31 2) Josiah Degeneffe (P)-17:34 3) Diego Aguilera(P)-18:08 4) Mark Ybarra-(P)-19:06 5) Constantin0 Neri-(P)-19:22
Girls-1) Kalista Tibbels-(P)-20:11 2) Grace Bonzoumet-(P)-20:51 3) Katelyn Michel-(P)-20:57 4) Makayla Anderson-(P)-21:24 5)-Nadia Munoz-(P)-21:39
Written by John Corona