Led by freshman Hilda González and junior Devianna “Dede” Salcedo, the McFarland High School girls cross country squad made a successful debut in Division I by qualifying for Saturday’s (Nov. 25) state meet.
The McFarland girls proved they can take anything the Central Section dishes out. The Cougars placed third with 95 points at Thursday’s (Nov. 16) Central Section Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
Only powerhouse Buchanan High, which claimed its second straight section title, and Clovis High did better on the 3.1-mile course.
The Central Section’s competitive equity model, which grants officials the ability to move schools up or down in division based on their performance, bumped the Cougars from Division II to Division I after their second-straight Valley Division II title last season.
González, 14, finished fifth with a time of 18:30.43, behind top finisher Meagan Lowe of Buchanan (17:18.30). Lowe’s teammate, Corie Smith, was second (17:27:12), followed by Clovis High’s Olivia Herrera (18:20.52) and Clovis North’s Blayney Dolan (18:26.46).
Salcedo pushed through a sore left foot and a sprain among various injuries throughout season. She finished 14th with a time of 19-15.87, then wrapped an ice pack around her ankle after the race.
In the seconds before race time, Ayón told his runners “This is our first race in Division I, and I think we’re going to do something special today.”
“No Kern County team has ever made state in Division I,” said McFarland girl’s cross country coach Amador Ayón. “I’m just happy that we made it.”
It’s a feat because these Clovis schools are much larger than the 709 enrollment at McFarland. Buchanan (Clovis) has an enrollment of 2,699; Bakersfield High (2,835); Clovis East (2,335); Madera South (3,047); Clovis High (2,902); Bullard (2,445); Clovis North (2,487); Stockdale High (2,158); Clovis West (2,096), and Centennial (1,969).
González has been competitive since second grade. According to her parents, she’s competed as far away as Florida.
“I wanted to keep up the streak. I’m disappointed. I wanted a faster finish. My goal was just to keep up with the girls up front, Buchanan,” said González, 14, “I knew I had tough competition. I knew I had to push through the pain. We’re going to have competition next week. We’re going to have to work.”
Older brother Daniel González competed for McFarland prior to 2012 graduation. According to her mother, Hilda began running competitively in the second grade. Her parents have taken her to as far as Florida for competitions.
Salcedo led the Cougars’ charge winning the Division II crown last year, resulting in the McFarland girls’ 21st Valley team title.
“The last half-mile; it was going downhill; sand and a couple of rocks. I twisted it,” said Salcedo. “We were going for third, but at least we made it to state in D-1. We thought it was not unfair, because we’re doing really good, but also we’re not in their school population. We’re no way close to theirs, so we’re thinking, ‘Why did we get bumped up?”
Salcedo has won the added the team accepted the challenge, but some of the parents thought it unfair.
“How many times did Buchanan win?” asked one non-McFarland parent looking over results, who wanted to remain anonymous. “Why don’t they bump them up? Because they won’t. That’s not fair.”
“They say ‘They basically robbed us of our title,’ because we’re supposed to be in D-2, but it’s a good experience,” said Salcedo.
With trouble breathing and rolling her ankle, Salcedo plans on working out with head coach Ayón. A day prior to the CIF state finals, she’s scheduled for a scoping to determine if there’s any medical reason for her trouble breathing.
“I just hope they don’t say that I can’t run,” she said.
“I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and in those 25 years, we’ve always had a plaque at the section meet. We’re not taking a plaque, those are the things that people will remember, but we made history,” said Ayón.
Ernie García, the co-head coach of the cross country coach at Fresno High School.
“We want to race and beat the best team,” said García.
“We would like to be Division I and win, win, win. How much fun is it to be beating everybody’s butt. If you want to play the best, you have to beat the best. The size of the school doesn’t matter anymore,” said García.
Ayón praised Madera South High School and head coach Eloy Quintana. McFarland beat Madera South by 10 points 95 to 105 for third place.
Imelda Suárez of Monache High School finally completed her dream of a Valley title. She finished at 19:10.45, seconds ahead of teammate and No. 2 finisher Marilou Ruiz, who finished at 19:24.79.
“Ever since one of my teammates won it her freshman year, I’ve wanted to do it. Freshman, sophomore year, I placed sixth both times. Senior year, I have to go out with a bang,” said Suárez, who has qualified to the state finals all four years..
“I’m excited. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work. It’s a great feeling. I cannot even explain it.”
Suárez comforted teammates who cried at the finish line.
Teammate Marilou Ruiz, a junior, finished second at 19:24.79, freshman Asilin Taylor 19:51.88 was sixth, and senior Alyssa Quinones finished ninth with a time of 20:07.26. Monache finished first in the team standings with 60 points and qualified as a team to the state finals.
Sunnyside Jéssica Valles captured the Division III race with a time of 19:29.6. Wasco’s Sayra Raya finished in second place at 19:48.2. Dinuba’s Luz Díaz rounded off the top three at 19:58.9.
Lindsay High junior Mckaylie Caesar stayed in front of the Division IV pack throughout the entire race. Caeser finished at 19:07.3.
“I thought it was going to be a really close and tight race,” said Caeser, who finished well ahead of second-place finisher Haley Ulloa (19:41.58).
“This year, I’ve prepared more, and I’m ready to excel,” said Caeser about returning to the state finals.
Fresno High junior Gabriella Jiménez finished fourth to qualify to state.
“It was tough, but I kept pushing it. I ended up making it,” said Jiménez.
Jiménez missed the cut to the state finals last year by two points.
“My teammates came up to me saying, ‘You made it! You made it!’ It’s such a good feeling,” said Jiménez, who crossed the finish line at 20:05.
Division V winner Caliska Ávila has never seen a state final in cross country, yet the freshman, from Washington Union High School will attempt to finish in the top ten.
“To be honest, I thought that I would be a little bit behind today. I felt like I had a lot of pressure,” said Avila, who finished Division V at 21:03.57. Avila finished nearly 40 seconds ahead of second-place finisher from San Joaquín Memorial (Fresno) junior Marianne Gleason (21:43.39).
“If I put my mind to it, I’ll probably do good and place. Austin Ávila, he’s in college, my brother, he’s always inspired me to do great,” she said.
Caliska hopes to compete in running events throughout high school and earn a scholarship to Oregon State. Austin is a full-time student at San Jose State University.
Ávila is the only runner from Washington Union to qualify to the state finals. “She’s been hot all year and improving her times. Today is just another culmination of running really hard and really fast. I didn’t even know this lady was going to try out, and when she started running, I couldn’t stop her,” said head coach Grace Robles.