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Vikings sweep first at Anza cross-country meet

Rochelle Hernandez wins girls race

Cottonwood Elementary School of Aguanga hosted a cross-country meet Thursday, March 14, for the small K-8 elementary schools and middle schools in northern San Diego County and southern Riverside County which participate in athletic tournaments, and Vallecitos Elementary School took first place as a team for both the boys and the girls while Vallecitos seventh-grader Rochelle Hernandez was the first girls individual finisher.

"I'm really impressed with how well they did, especially under the conditions they ran," Vallecitos coach Ray Hanbeck said.

The meet was based at Hamilton High School in Anza. The races were originally scheduled for Thursday, March 7, but rain in Anza delayed the competition by a week. The rain makeup date also allowed Vallecitos to make up for practices lost due to rain.

"We lost a week of practice," Hanbeck said. "We had an extra week to prepare."

The boys race began at 10 a.m. The weather as the Vallecitos teams arrived was less than ideal. "There were flakes of snow coming down," Hanbeck said.

The weather was noticed from the parking lot below the field.

"You could feel the cold already," Hanbeck said. "I've never seen it this cold. These are the worst conditions we've had."

The temperature was 41 degrees when the meet began. The weather became warmer later in the morning, although the temperature did not rise as much as expected.

"It was really hard to compete," Hanbeck said. "It was really, really challenging."

Cross-country team scores are derived by adding the positions of a school's first five finishers, so at least five runners are needed for a team score. The sixth and seventh runners are not scored but can add points to other teams' totals.

"I don't think the boys have gotten first place before," Hanbeck said. "I don't think the girls have gotten first place, either."

Hernandez's individual victory was the first for a Vallecitos runner since Edgar Ortega won the boys race in 2018. That year, the Vallecitos boys were second while the Vallecitos girls had only four runners. In 2019, the Vallecitos girls were second while the Vikings boys placed last, and that year the temperature was 42 degrees and strong winds existed.

The coronavirus shutdown eliminated the cross-country competition in 2020 and 2021. The Vikings were third for both the boys and the girls in 2022. Last year Vallecitos had no girls while the boys placed second.

This year Vallecitos had a boys team score of 32 points. Julian Junior High School had the second-place score of 58 points. Cottonwood had 70 points and was third. Pauma Elementary School accumulated 73 points for fourth.

Both the boys and the girls ran on a 2.0-mile course. Cottonwood's Derek Ortego won the boys race with a time of 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Vallecitos seventh-grader Gerardo Moreno Salazar was second at 12:40.

"He was right behind him," Hanbeck said. "They were really close together."

Moreno Salazar was also second in last year's race, posting a time of 13:29. He placed 14th in 2022 and had a time of 16:15.

Pauma's Azael Robles was third and finished in 13:02. Julian runners took fourth and fifth, and Vallecitos had the next four finishing positions.

"We were dominant in the top 10," Hanbeck said.

Fifth-grader Tiago Lopez edged seventh-grader James Sharkey for sixth place. Lopez had a time of 13:19.32 while Sharkey finished in 13:19.87. Seventh-grader Iker Yanez placed eighth at 13:52 while seventh-grader Leo Fuentes had the ninth-place time of 13:53.

"I'm just really impressed with how well they did," Hanbeck said.

Sharkey placed 11th both in 2022 and 2023. His 2022 time was 16:11 and he completed the course in 15:34 last year. Yanez was 12th in the 2023 race and had a time of 15:42.

Vallecitos had ten boys in this year's race and Pauma had seven boys. The only Vallecitos eighth-grader, Jesus Perez, was 11th with a time of 15:02. Pauma took the next two positions with Albeyron Rivera posting a time of 15:18 and Jose Diaz finishing in 15:19. The seventh Vallecitos finisher, sixth-grader Andre McLaughlin, was 14th overall and had a time of 15:37. Vallecitos seventh-grader Miguel Diaz had the 20th-place time of 16:31.

Pauma's Manuel Grajeda was 21st at 17:38. The fifth Pauma finisher, Jesus Santiago, posted the 24th-place time of 19:04. Pauma's Gideon James finished in 19:37 for 26th place, and 27th-place Moises Torres of Pauma had a time of 19:43. Vallecitos runner Michael Alvarez became the 28th finisher 21:57 after the start of the race. A time of 22:01 for Eduardo Allegra of Vallecitos gave him 29th place.

The Vallecitos girls won the race with 31 team points.

"That was a complete surprise," Hanbeck said. "I was not expecting them to do as well as they did. We only had six girls, and none of them had actually run before."

Cottonwood placed second with 44 points. Pauma, which also had six girls, had the third-place score of 55 points.

The winning time for Hernandez was 15:39.

"She was behind the first-place girl coming into the last leg of the race," Hanbeck said.

The leader slowed down.

"She didn't have anything left. She ended up walking," Hanbeck said.

It allowed Hernandez to take over the lead.

"She always keeps a steady pace when she runs," Hanbeck said. "A steady pace wins the race."

Cottonwood's Hayden Ortego finished second with a time of 16:02. The third-place time of Cottonwood's Taaryle Langdon was 16:31. Pauma had the next two finishers with Yamileth Hinojosa taking 16:36 and Aaliyah Hernandez finishing in 16:37.

Cross-country coaches often emphasize pack running. Hanbeck told his girls to try to stay together and try to stay close to the front.

"That's exactly what they did. They stayed pretty close together," he said.

The other five Vallecitos girls finished sixth through 10th. Seventh-grader Ana Juan Pedro completed the course in 16:43; fifth-grader Rya Van Gompel had a 16:46 performance; seventh-grader Bianey Linares finished in 17:01; eighth-grader Dalina Hernandez posted a time of 17:10 and sixth-grader Madelyn Yanez crossed the finish line 17:22 after the race began.

"They all came in really close together," Hanbeck said."I didn't know if they had it in them."

Pauma's other four runners finished 13th, 14th, 19th and 20th. Yaretzy Saldana took 18:22, Diana Mora had a time of 18:50, Emily Delgadillo had a 20:03 performance and Maria Lizbeth Oros completed the course in 20:05.

"I'm real proud of them for how they did," Hanbeck said of the Vallecitos boys and girls. "They pulled everything together and they really came through. They really came through under tough circumstances."

The schools will next convene in Warner Springs for the Warner Softball Tournament which will be played Thursday, April 18, contingent upon satisfactory weather. The cross-country meet was the fifth of this academic year's seven tournaments.

Vallecitos did not have a girls team for the Borrego Springs Basketball Tournament, but the Vikings girls won the Pauma Volleyball Tournament, the Vallecitos Soccer Tournament and the Cottonwood Flag Football Tournament.

The Hamilton School in Anza participated in the league through last year but has transitioned to competition against schools with larger enrollments. Hamilton had hosted the cross-country meet, and Cottonwood has taken that over. The Vallecitos boys won the soccer and flag football tournaments while placing second in the volleyball and basketball tournaments.

"We've got either first or second in all our tournaments," Hanbeck said. "I'm really happy with the way the season is shaping up."

Author Bio

Joe Naiman, Writer

Joe Naiman has been writing for the Village News since 2001


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