Cross country dominance, a pair of firsts and a few league champions made 2018 a year of sports the North County won’t soon forget. Below is a list of five of our favorite stories, in no particular order, that made 2018 a great year. (click on any title to see full story)
FRESNO — A little over two months ago the Paso Robles boys cross country team claimed their sixth consecutive San Luis Obispo County cross country title, seven weeks ago they won their fifth straight league title and on Nov. 15 they brought home their first CIF Central Section Cross Country title in over 70 years.
This was the Bearcats first season participating in the Central Section and while not many may have predicted a CIF championship run it was something that was in the back of many minds.
Paso Robles placed two athlete’s inside the top four and three inside the top 10 to steal the victory away from Clovis North who only placed two runners in the top 10.
As he did for much of the second half of the season, junior Damian Gavilan led the way for the Bearcats finishing second overall with a time of 15 minutes and 27.26 seconds.
The soft-spoken running star ran his best race of the season and recorded a personal record in the process.
“I was feeling a PR [personal record],” Gavilan said. “When we were leading off the first mile I was a little nervous at first because usually, you shouldn’t lead the first mile but it wasn’t relatively fast and because of that it just helped me push through the other two miles and PR.”
Gavilan led or was near the front of the pack for much of the first mile, slowed down a little in the second, and turned on the burners when hit the hill for the final mile.
“I was just mind blown,” Gavilan said. “I knew that we were good but I didn’t think that we would actually take the title like that considering that the Central Section was full of a lot of good and experienced runners. It was just insane, I was just excited and happy.”
Gavilan wasn’t the only one setting records on Nov. 15 as team captain Pablo Cortez also ran a personal best on the Woodward Park course with a time of 15:42.07 which placed him fourth overall.
FRESNO — Atascadero’s Xavier Gonzales
Three weeks prior, at the Mountain League finals, Gonzales finished fourth and was upset with himself because he knew that he could have run faster but head coach Roger Warnes noted that they were, “Holding him back a bit for CIF next week.”
The strategy paid off as Gonzales now joins Callum Bolger of San Luis Obispo as recent Central Coast boys runners to win an individual CIF Championship.
For the past four years, Gonzales’ goal had been to win a CIF Championship and run in the state meet. As a sophomore, he just barely missed out by less than a second and just one place behind the fifth-place runner that was selected. Last year, as a junior, Gonzales became ill around the time of the PAC 8 finals and the CIF divisional meet and was unable to run to the best of his abilities but now in his final season, he achieved everything he set out to do.
“As soon as I crossed the line — it still hasn’t hit me,” Gonzales said before practice on Wednesday. “But it has always been my goal to go to state and last year I was sick so I didn’t get the result I wanted out of CIF Finals, but this year winning a Divisional Championship and then obviously going to state. It was a lot, but all my hard work paid off and all the people know how hard I worked for what happened
ATASCADERO — For the first time in the history of the program, the Atascadero High School girls golf team headed to the CIF playoffs. The playoff berth came on the heels of another Atascadero girls first when they defeated San Luis Obispo at their home course of Chalk Mountain on Oct. 1 by a score of 244-249.
The girls team was led by sophomore Katie Burson, who was always in medal contention in all the matches she played in, and a tight-knit group of four seniors who all began playing their freshman year as a way to hang out together, with absolutely no golf experience, and have grown into a force that made it into the playoffs.
“I think it is pretty cool because, I mean, we get to go as a team and being able to have this experience with all my friends is pretty cool,” Burson said. “It is fun, I love golf so being able to go out and have a new experience with my friends is pretty cool.”
The senior nucleus was made up of Abbey Hurst, who played as the Hounds No. 2 player this season, Cairo Murphy Atascadero’s No. 3, Alyssa Melendez the No. 4 player, and Sierra Powell who held down the Hounds No. 6 spot until she injured her ankle a few weeks ago.
“I would have honestly laughed so hard,” Powell replied when asked what she would have said if someone would have told her the Hounds would make the playoffs her senior year. “We took months to learn how to use a club and now we are so picky if our aim isn’t right, but, honestly, in the beginning,
Junior Julia Smith was also a key part of the Hounds success this year and normally played in Atascadero’s No. 5 spot. The Hounds also had Junior Madison Hosford who started the season on junior varsity but was brought up after Powell sustained the injury and played in the No. 6 spot ever since.
ATASCADERO — Aleah Russell attends the tiny Shandon High School and broke the mold of what was previously thought possible for a swimmer at that school. She took up a sport no other Shandon athlete has and didn’t merely compete, but excelled.
On March 10, Russell attended the Mt. Sac Invitational swim meet that featured more than 1,000 swimmers and put down her best time in the 100-meter breaststroke, a 1:14:53, which was fast enough to automatically qualify her for CIF.
There is no pool at Shandon High School and there is also no swim team.
“There is a pool — it's the county pool,” Russell said. “But I don't swim there, I swim at Kennedy.”
Russell is as dedicated as an athlete can be. She made the drive to Kennedy Club Fitness in Paso Robles to train and did so at least once every day while in season.
“I swim morning practices on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” Johnson said. “And afternoons every day with mornings on Saturday as well.”
Because Shandon does not have a swim team they are not invited to swim meets and Russell must swim as a freelance athlete for her regular season competition. On March 23, she joined the Atascadero and Mission Prep dual meet and swam in two events, the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter breaststroke.
In her premiere event, she finished second with a time of 1:19:12 but was already guaranteed a spot in CIF. The week before Russell joined the Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo dual meet and was the only swimmer donning a blue cap and swimsuit. Russell finished sixth in the breaststroke in the CIF Southern Section.
TEMPLETON — On May 1, at Vineyard Elementary School, both the Templeton Eagles baseball and softball teams clinched the Los Padres League Title. The baseball team won its first LPL title since the 2013 season and the softball team repeated for the second straight year.
The boys wrapped up their league title on the same night that they honored their seniors. The Eagles honored each of their seven seniors and their families before the game: Justice Gibbons, Jared Money, Tyler Frigon, Adrian Flanagan, Jake Neate, Jared Briltz, and Cole Garcia.
Head Coach Pete Kotheimer had the perfect pregame speech to keep his players focused.
“They actually got us two years ago, twice, and it kept us from having a winning record and that's the only year we haven't had a winning record since 2010, so I reminded them of that,” Kotheimer said. “I told them we probably should have won those games on paper and I told them we should probably win this game on paper, but they need to do what they have been doing all year and play baseball.”
Both the baseball and the softball teams were been dominant this year, but it is impossible to be better than perfect, which is the way the girls finished their regular season, 22-0. Although it is weird to say that an undefeated team could peak at the right time, the Eagles did as their standout pitcher, Ashley Daugherty, who has since signed her National Letter of Intent to Texas A&M, threw a perfect game on May 4, just a week before they began their playoff run.
The Eagles posted one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory as they excelled at all facets of the game. The Eagles outscored their opponents at a nearly unbelievable rate, 201-12 (that’s plus 189 if you are counting at home) and their two pitchers, Daugherty, and Shaylin Coy combined for a league-leading .27 ERA to go along with two no-hitters.
Others receiving votes: Unfortunately not every story can make it into our top five so here are several other great stories from 2018. Atascadero's softspoken sophomore star pitcher Bailey Doherty won Pitcher of the Year for the PAC 8 throwing a perfect game and was a single hit batter away from a second (click here to read) Paso Robles alumnus Josh Oliver was one of the premier tight ends in the country this year, led the San Jose State Spartans offense and earned himself a spot on the Preseason Mackey Award list that honors the best tight ends in college football (click here). On March 1, the Paso Robles Bearcats hosted the Special Olympics San Luis Obispo County Unified Basketball Tournament at the Gil Asa Gymnasium and took home the gold (click here). Atascadero alumnus Austin Bonjour won the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Eastern Open No. 3 at Lake Champlain, NY, on Aug. 2-4 with a three-day total of 32 pounds, 7 ounces in the co-angler division and used the prize money to finance his wedding to his high school sweetheart (click here). The Bearcats boys varsity track team also took down the Arroyo Grande Eagles to bring home the Track and Field PAC 8 league title (click here).