Ask a young athlete what it takes to succeed in a sport and they might reference physical ability and talent. Pose that same question to a coach and you’re likely to get a different response; an answer regarding competitive desire and will.
Neither answer is wrong. Physicality and will occupy both sides of the coin of athletic accomplishment; particularly with cross country, the ultimate endurance sport where both body and mind push a runner towards the finish line.
On Wednesday Turlock and Pitman High’s runners put their muscles and minds to the test during the first Central California Conference Cluster Meet of the season at Donnelly Park. Each team had different obstacles to overcome, some from within and others from competing schools, but they did so without complaint and to the delight of their coaches.
For Turlock High’s girls team the past was the focus of attack. After finishing dead last in the very same event last year the Lady Bulldogs turned things around with a third place finish; a sign that things are indeed changing and moving in the right direction.
“We have a good solid seven,” Turlock’s coach JoAnne Davison said of her girls. “We have great leadership this year.”
Senior Mallory Patino emerged as Turlock’s leader this season, motivating her teammates to aim high and push for league contention. Her will has already rubbed off on her fellow runners, notably sophomores Makenzie Salyer and Fallon Bieber who were the first two Bulldogs to cross the finish line on Wednesday. Patino was the third.
“Mallory has stepped up her game this year and brought everyone else with her,” Davison said.
Turlock’s boys have also begun cultivating a newfound competitive attitude. On Wednesday they duked it out with defending CCC champs Buhach Colony High for a second place team finish in what was truly a team effort. A clump of Turlock runners lead by junior Rex Doo, senior Logan Conner, and junior Nico Lopez earned a slew of points for the Bulldogs as they crossed the finish line together with improved times.
“In the not so distant past we were down at the bottom of league,” Davison said. “This year the guys decided we’re moving up and that we want more.”
The rest of the CCC took notice of Turlock’s strong performance, making the Bulldogs a target this season.
“They’re only going to get stronger,” Davison said.
While Turlock overcame its past Pitman was forced to overcome the present. The Pride girls entered Wednesday’s meet with top runners Jordan Garcia and Audrey Hanf sidelined due to illness and Jami Ford hindered with an injury. Despite the setbacks Pitman still ran a tough race, finishing fifth as a team.
“With the injury and the two absences we were happy to finish fifth,” Pitman’s coach Sara Smith said.
Junior Elisah Frank led Pitman’s pack, finishing right behind Turlock’s Salyer and just ahead of the senior Ford. Junior Erika Dwight was Pitman’s third runner to finish, crossing the line shoulder to shoulder with Ford.
“One of our goals this season is for everyone to improve as a team but they also had strong performances individually,” Smith said.
Pitman’s boys put in a strong performance on both the team and individual level. As a team the Pride finished fourth, battling Atwater High, Buhach and Turlock on the hot summer day. Senior Issac Gonzalez was the story of the day for Pitman, however, ending the day as the second overall runner to cross the finish line with a time of 16:35. Gonzalez entered this season with high expectations and has met them without fail so far.
“We have two more CCC Clusters so by the third one we expect him to be a first place finisher,” Smith said of Gonzalez.
Fellow senior Carlos Casas was the second Pitman runner to finish the race and was followed by senior Austin King.
“Eighty-five percent of the team improved on their times and that’s what we want to see during the season,” Smith said. “We want to see them keep getting stronger.”
Turlock and Pitman will compete in today’s Hughson Supercross Invitational.