Marcus Mota claims back-to-back Valley titles; Ridgeview dominates in CIF Central Section cross country

Ridgeview High School junior Alex Cuevas flies past a hill on his way to winning the Division III individual title.
Ridgeview High School junior Alex Cuevas flies past a hill on his way to winning the Division III individual title.

Stockdale High School senior Marcus Mota got what he wanted Thursday at Woodward Park.

So did McFarland High sophomore Hilda González, Ridgeview High junior Alex Cuevas, and Monache High senior Iván Méndez.

Only Mota – who grabbed back-to-back Central Section cross country individual titles in Division I – and Cuevas, the leader of a squad that demolished the Division III field, claimed individual titles and will head to the state meet on the same 3.1-mile course on Nov. 24.

González and Mejía also qualified for the state meet.

After all, making it through to the next level of competition was on the mind of the four runners on an overcast day as the section crowned individual and team champions in 10 divisions (five each for boys and girls).

There was little doubt that Mota would successfully defend his title against a Division I field that included runner-up Damián Gavilán of Paso Robles and Isaiah Galindo of Clovis North.

Mota, who remains uncommitted as far as college goes, posted a time of 15 minutes, 25.9 seconds. That was the fastest time of the day.

However, it wasn’t enough to pull his team to the state meet because Stockdale finished sixth. The top three teams advance.

“Oh man! It feels amazing,” said Mota about becoming the second runner at his school to win two Valley titles back-to-back.”

Although his times this season haven’t been as fast as he had planned, he has remained injury free and believes with a little extra push he will be able to lower his time at the state meet.

“When state comes, I just look to do the best I can. As long as I can do that, I’m happy,” said Mota, who has yet to select a college.

Paso Robles, a new entrant to the Central Section, ran away with the team title with 65 points. It was followed by Clovis North (72 points) and Buchanan High (85 points).

Hilda González, one of less than 930 students enrolled at McFarland High, is used to running with the big dogs in cross country.

She placed third in Division I girls race with a time of 18:27:89, which would have been good enough to win Division II or Division III.

“There are a lot of fast girls in Division I,” said Gonzales. “Buchanan is really good.”

That’s because Corie Smith, a junior, ran away with first place thanks to her 17:15.10 time, followed closely by Meagan Lowe, a senior, in 17:32.75.

“I wanted to go for third place,” said Gonzales. “I’m just trying to PR.”

McFarland High School sophomore Hilda González placed third in the Division I race, ahead of Clovis High senior Olivia Herrera. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

McFarland, which has been moved into Division I (just like the boys team) because of its dominating success at lower levels – finished fourth in the team standings with 105 points. That was not good enough to advance to state as a team.

Buchanan, which also got help from seventh-place finisher Mía Jauregui (19:02.75), managed 24 points to wrap up another section title.

Clovis West was second with 92 points, followed by Madera South with 96 points.

Gonzales likes the fast competition because “I know I can push better.”

Méndez was happy to finish third after an ear infection sidelined him from training the last four days leading to the race.

“I just wanted to make it to state,” said Méndez, who timed 15:49.99 to finish behind Division II winner Xavier Gonzales of Atascadero (15:46.81) and runner-up Jacob Reséndez of Bakersfield’s Liberty High (15:47.15).

“I think I can get back to where I was at the state meet,” said Méndez, who took up cross country as a freshman because he was too small for football.

After his first practice session, Méndez said he “wanted to quit.” Now, he “loves it.”

Liberty High took the Division II title with 48 points, followed by San Luis Obispo (60 points). Monache placed fifth with 133 points and failed to advance to state.

Cuevas, who followed the footsteps of his father who competed at the high school and collegiate level, showed why Ridgeview High is among the top Division III teams in the state.

Cuevas clocked 15:40.68 to win the division. He was followed closely by teammates Bryan Gaxiola (15:42.47), Ased Adus (16:00.57) and Gerardo Moreno (16:01.03).

The Wolf Pack’s winning total of 20 points was the lowest of the day in either division. The combined time of the top five runners (1:19:46.39) was also the fastest of all divisions.

Corcoran High was a distant second with 105 points, while Kerman was third with 162. The Ridgeview and Corcoran teams advance to state.

Ryan Lucker, who coaches the team, said the team is peaking at the right time. The lack of competition isn’t a problem, he said.

“We succeed when we stay together as a pack, a wolf pack,” said Lucker. “We stay together as a pack and then finish it off.”

Cuevas didn’t hit the time he was hoping for on Thursday, but remained pleased because he loves Woodward Park’s hilly course.