SAN LUIS OBISPO — All seven of the high schools that make up the Mountain League for cross country met Wednesday afternoon at the Cuesta-Fairbanks cross country course for the final race of the regular season. Just two weeks ago on Oct. 25, the boys cross country team from Paso Robles claimed their sixth straight countywide title which meant that barring something catastrophic a win on Wednesday was all but a certainty. The Bearcats were in front at the beginning of the race, in the middle of the race, and by the end, they grabbed each of the top three spots and four of the top five with one lone Atascadero Greyhound Xavier Gonzales separating the Bearcats from sweeping the top four.
“Ever since my freshman year, it is kind of like we expect it,” Pablo Cortez, senior captain of the PRHS boys cross country team, said following the race. “So I think last year was the closest one and I would even say that it was kind of scary at the end because we didn’t know for the longest time if we won or not and this year was kind of crazy because we knew going in that we would have a huge gap. It is kind of crazy but also kind of nice knowing that our program is that good.”
For context on the Bearcats dominance, only a single point separated the Bearcats from Arroyo Grande who finished second last year. This year the Bearcats were 28 points clear of the next closest team, San Luis Obispo.
For the second-straight race,PRHS junior Damian Gavilan crossed the finish line before anyone else. On Wednesday Gavilan came around the final bend without another racer in sight as he pushed himself through the finish line with a time of 15 minutes, 57 seconds.
“OK, it felt really good,” Gavilan said following the race. “But during the race, it really hurt but the only reason I pushed through was because of all the training we have had and that helped a lot.”
Just a few seconds behind was Cortez who took second with a time of 16:08.67. Cortez has been a star on the Bearcats cross country team since his freshman year. He has never finished worse than 14th in the League Championship meet and has finished inside the top five every year except his first.
“[Pablo] is one of the hardest workers I’ve got out there,” PRHS head coach Ivan Huff said. “He is always doing the extra, getting his Sunday runs in when he is on his own.”
Huff also credited Cortez with helping lead the team this year including pushing Gavilan to be the best that he could be.
“A lot of times the kids get into a pecking order, it’s like, ‘Oh that’s Pablo,’ and they just assume they have to stay behind Pablo,” Huff said. “But you have to get that mindset out of their head and he got it out of his head and he has been working really hard. And the reason that he has gotten better is because of Pablo.”
Senior Steven Scruggs finished in third place with a time of 16:13.37 followed closely by his younger brother Jason who finished in fifth place with a time of 16:31.13. Michael Hernandez rounded out the Bearcats top five finishing 21st with a time of 17:31.27 and giving PRHS 32 points and the victory.
While the Bearcats made the most significant piece of history on Wednesday the Greyhounds created a little of their own as well.
“The boys finished in third today and that is the first time, we believe, in 20 years that we have beaten Arroyo Grande,” Greyhounds head coach Roger Warnes said. “So that is a pretty big deal for us.”
The Hounds had two runners just miss the podium in Xavier Gonzales and Claire Livengood, but coach Warnes is preparing the Hounds next week when they head to the Central Section Championships.
The Hounds elected to run a little more on Monday than most would expect before a League Championship race.
“I knew that we ran a little too much mileage on Monday and that my legs weren’t there,” Gonzales said. “I was looking forward to winning this race against a very big competitive field and I know that I can gauge off them, if I can beat people in our league then I can win our division. I am ranked second right now and the top guy is not that much faster than me.”
While to some it may have seemed like a coaching oversight, Warnes is preparing his top runner for next week.
“We are kind of holding him back a bit for CIF next week,” Warnes said.
The Lady Bearcats finished in second place overall behind the San Luis Obispo Tigers who placed four girls in the top seven. As they have most of the season, the sophomore pair of Madeline Loff and Jasmine Rangel led Paso Robles and finished one right before the other. Loff finished in ninth overall with a time of 20:17.06 and Rangel finished 10th with a time of 20:24.23
Freshman Charlotte Castelli finished in third for Paso Robles in 17th overall and was followed by a pack of Jill Schlickeiser, Grace Chamberlain and Clara Lundy.
The Atascadero girls team finished in fourth place overall. Livengood ran with the lead pack for most of the race but could not keep up with the kick of the two girls at the front that sprinted the final 25 yards through the finish line. She finished in third place overall with a time of 19:36.20. Junior Kacey Journey finished 14th overall with a time of 20:55.34 and was followed by sophomore Faith Rocha who finished 18th running 21:17.68.
Both the Hounds and Bearcats will make their way to Woodward Park in Fresno on Thursday for the CIF Championships and hopefully will continue running into State.