Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 Earlybird Invitational Preview by NMC Coach Gustavo Ibarra

You can also view the preview below at this link.

2014 Earlybird Invitational Preview by Coach Gustavo Ibarra

North Monterey County High School is proud to present the 20th Annual Earlybird Invitational! We’re set for a 9th year at Toro Park, site of this year’s CCS Championship in Salinas. The meet held its first 11 events on the campus of North Monterey County High School and started in 1994 with a modest hand-full of local teams. With the loss of the course at the school, the event moved to Toro where it has grown to become one of the premiere meets in California in the early season. The 20th annual event will not disappoint with our largest field ever assembled. Over 75 schools and 2,500 runners will converge September 6th to kick off the 2014 season with a bang and celebrate with an anniversary cake and DJ!
Earlybird races are always held by grade levels with combined team times being used for overall bragging rights. This year our traditional line-up of powerhouse squads from the north and central part of the state continues with some very nice additions to the party. The Central Coast Section steals the show with 20 out of the top 25 ranked boys’ squads clashing here including 11 out of the top 12! The ladies from CCS aren’t far behind with 6 out of the top 10 and 19 out of the top 25. The Central, North Coast, Sac Joaquin, San Francisco, and the Northern Section will also send some of their best including several squads ranked in the top 3 in their section and state ranked squads that always break up the CCS party. As cross country is a true team sport, we’ll start by highlighting the top teams followed by the top individuals. We’ll start with the boys this year.

The BOYS will steal the show with the fastest 10 teams ever at the park locking horns here. The Central Coast Section teams are not afraid to meet early on here and the top ranked squads always use Earlybird as a CCS season preview. But, and it’s a BIG but, the Central and Southern Section has sent its best teams to spoil the coastal fun. CCS showed well before 2002 with top performances by Bellarmine (1998), San Benito (1999), and Aptos (2000 & 2001). From 2002-2007 the titles went to Central Section powerhouse Madera. In 2008, Redondo Union rolled into town from the Southern Section and dethroned the Central Valley kings. CCS stormed back in 2009 & 2010 with Bellarmine highlighting. Three years back Madera South, headed by Coach Rich Parris who led Madera to its streak, held off the Bells for a thrilling win and they have repeated the 1-2 finish each year since.
2014 should be icing on the anniversary cake as these Division 1 power-houses lock horns once again with Bellarmine trying to break the current streak. Although Coach Parris has recently stepped down to take a position as an Athletic Director at Corcoran, we are still going with hard-working Madera South from the Central Section as favorites to defend their title and make it 4 in a row. A win here under a new head coach who assisted previously would be a nice testament to the program they have built. They are coming off a program best 2nd place showing last year at the state championships where the Stallions made history by qualifying for the National Championships! The team averaged a mind blowing 15:43 on the 5k Woodward Park layout and return 5 from that squad including some of the top young runners in the state. We will go out on a limb here and give Madera South a very good shot at the Toro Park record here with another state plaque looking very likely. Last week they blew the doors off the competition at their own invitational with FOUR guys under the old course record! D1 rival Bellarmine will counter and shine for the CCS with a win not out of the question. The Bells placed a very solid 6th at State last year after a nice section title and return six from that squad. Throw in the top 9th grader in the state for good measure and what may be the deepest team in the state will purr along just fine. Here’s hoping a state plaque is in the cards for them also. Los Gatos on paper looks very dangerous and could mix it up with these two giants this season. They return the whole squad and could play among the state’s best in D2. They were spotted at Toro Park 2 weeks back and will come with some business in mind. St. Ignatius comes in as the top ranked CCS D3 squad and hopes to upset the bigger schools. Carlmont has made CCS D1 a back and forth affair with Bellarmine while Homestead has had to settle for 3rd best for some time. They both return four and should have good battle once again. Scotts Valley comes in as the top CCS D4 squad and return five from a 5th place state team. Lynbrook will be without their top gun here who’s out for knee surgery so watch for them later on if he can re-join the squad. Some smaller sized schools to keep an eye on include Aptos, ranked 2nd in D3, and host school North Monterey County, who make their debut in D4. King City showed very well at Toro just last week and could climb the rankings early on. Some spoiler squads who hope to upset the form charts include Los Altos, San Benito, Clovis West, West Valley, Willow Glen, Saratoga, Monta Vista, Leland, Seaside,  and Westmont with a new young  9th grade star.   
The senior boys usually have the most fire-power on the boy’s side and we will call this the clash of the Earlybird titans as defending champion Chris Foster (Los Gatos) will be seeking his 3rd Earlybird win after wins in 9th and 11th grade. He will be holding off Steven Sum (Saratoga) who returns after missing last year’s race and winning his 10th grade year in a great 15:32, making him the fastest returnee at Toro. Steven has slightly better track credentials with a 4:15 1600 and 9:10 3200 to his credit compared to Chris’s 4:17/9:16 but Toro Park has hills and Chris showed better last year at state with a fine 15:29 over the Woodward Park layout compared to Steven’s 15:50. If either of them blink it will be Juan Macias (Madera South) who may sneak in and notch his first Earlybird win after a nice 15:49 run at state. Jose Pina (Lincoln) just missed the win last year by 3 seconds and hopes to play spoiler. Miles and Tucker Meijer (Bellarmine) will start the team showcase here while Edgar Bonilla (King City) will shine after a great 5th place at state in D4 (15:46). Others hoping for top 10 places include Ben Haderle (Los Gatos), Mark Vingralek (Carlmont), Alex Sasser (Bellarmine), Samuel Blake (Westmont), and the host school’s Oscar Mora (North Monterey County). Finally, keep an eye on spoilers Johain Ounadjela (Carlmont) after a fine 4:18 mile in track and Jesus Cacique (Madera South).
The Bellarmine seniors will put on a TEAM clinic here after dominating wins the last 2 years as 10th and 11th graders and will have Los Gatos, Carlmont, and Madera South in their rear-view mirror hoping for 2nd and 3rd place medals.
The junior boys feature Eduardo Herrera (Madera South). The now veteran leader of one of the top teams in the country has credentials most top juniors and seniors would envy. He has won his first 2 Earlybirds (15:43 in 2013) and should take a 3rd title in a row here. He is coming off a brilliant course record run last week at home and ran 15:21 good for an all-state medal (7th) last year in D1. To give you an idea of his fitness, he ran 25 seconds faster last week than he did last year at this time. Keep an eye on the all-time Toro records as he takes a shot at them! Kevin Lehr (St. Ignatius) could only keep Eduardo within 25 seconds last year and may try to close that gap here after a nice 15:41 at state. Ben Zaeske (Los Altos) returns for another top 3 placing. Others hoping to get some hardware include Nolan Dozier (Sobrato), Patrick Olsen (Aptos), teammates Marcus Avila and Donald Welsh (Bellarmine), and fast improving host Freddy Torres (North Monterey County).
Bellarmine will look for another win here after holding off Los Altos and St. Ignatius last year.
The sophomore boys feature the top returning youngster in the whole state! Last year Miguel Villar (Madera South) won here by a whopping 50 seconds with a fine 16:07 run and went on to blast a 15:29 at state for a top 30 place in D1! Not bad for a 9th grader!! Last week he ran 28 seconds faster on his home course compared to last year putting him with a potential sub 15:40 here this weekend. Let’s watch the clock since that’s all Miguel may be racing here. Hoping for 2nd best once again will be his own teammate Michael Ochoa (Madera South). The rest of the contenders for a top 3 finish include Max Sawyer (Monta Vista), Taisei Nishiki (Los Gatos), Dylan Doblar (Bellarmine), Alfredo Miranda (Madera South), Bryce Rausch (Homestead), and Sean Hoerger (Westmont).
Bellarmine won here last year as 9th graders but Madera South could have won it with a solid 5th runner. If Madera South has solidified that back end they could break up the Bellarmine plaque haul. Homestead also returns with medal aspirations.
The freshmen boys had a star on our radar last year in Miguel Villar (Madera South) and 2014 welcomes yet another star! Alex Scales (Bellarmine) makes his high school debut as the top 9th grader and we’ll see how close he can get to Miguel’s 16:07 from last year! Alex won the middle school race at Mt. Sac last year and may break up Bellarmine’s talented varsity as a 9th grader. He won’t be alone as Jason Gomez (Westmont) sparkled with a sub 4:30 mile equivalent last year. Also watch the next star for the Stallions in Adrian Alvarez (Madera South).
Bellarmine usually shines as a team here with their army and it will take a very special squad to upset them, especially with Alex leading.

The GIRLS don’t want to miss out on the fun and are led by top ranked CCS squad Aptos. The Mariners looked great last year winning CCS and placing 11th at state in D3. They return 6 and had some of the best young talent around. They sometimes lay a tad low early on and may open the door here for Clovis West making the trip from the Central Section. They return 5 from a team that just missed going to state and may be hungry for a great year with a trip to Fresno on their bucket list. Monta Vista is the top CCS D1 team after a nice section title and will counter with 5 returnees from a 12th place state team. San Lorenzo Valley is not ranked highly after losing four from a STATE CHAMPIONSHIP D4 team but they add an all state transfer who is now eligible to run. Keep an eye on them as defending Earlybird Champs. Madera South returns the whole kit and caboodle from a 17th place state D2 team and should shine with nice coastal weather. Los Altos also has a veteran crew with 6 back from a top 20 state team in D2. Homestead, Los Gatos, West Valley, Lynbrook, Leland, Scotts Valley, Greenfield, St. Ignatius, San Benito, Fremont, Mountain View, Salinas, and Firebaugh hope for top 10 finishes.
The senior girls wrap up the day for the ladies and have a cast of favorites! Leading are defending champion Jenna Storms (West Valley) and 2 time winner Jenny Xu (Monta Vista)! Jenny will be going for a 3rd win after placing 2nd last year while Jenna will hope to make it 2 titles a piece. Kaila Gibson (SLV) makes her debut for them after a transfer and could spoil the champions’ party. Grace Ling (Lynbrook) returns to try to duplicate her top 3 finish after a nice 10:54 3200 in track but Hannah Allen (Homestead) just may topple the cart and win the whole thing after a nice 18:30 run at state. Also note Katie Grootendorst (Clovis West) with big meet experience. Others to keep an eye on include Amy Lynch (Mountain View), Nicole Colonna (Pinewood), Yulisa Abundis (Aptos), Cecily Johnson (Los Gatos), Maddie McKenzie (Carmel), Amy Quinones (San Benito), Alexa Flagg (West Valley), Jessica Germany (SLV), and Karina Martinez (Madera South). 
Monta Vista returns to defend their title with Madera South, Homestead, and Los Gatos hoping for medals as well.
The junior girls feature the class of last year’s meet in Lauren Jacob (Los Altos). Lauren torched Toro Park in a sizzling 17:49 two years back and returned for an Earlybird win at 18:12 for the top time of the day! We are hoping to see her get back to sub 18:00 times this year with CCS at Toro to follow up on her nice 17:52 good for 11th at state and her 10:45 3200. Cate Ratliff (Santa Cruz) was 2nd last year and should give chase along with Jonnie Montano (Madera South) and Matti Peoples (Aptos). Jaqueline Escalera (Fremont) won 2 years back and hopes to get back up front  after a 9th place showing last year. Kaitlyn and Danielle Pacheco (Clovis West) are hoping to work together to upset the locals. Others shooting for medals include Olivia Quinn (Aptos), Riley Mason (Leland), Madeleine Yip (Monta Vista), Kailey Eddy (Valley Christian), Duyen Tran (Independence), and MacKenzie Cox (Fremont).
St. Ignatius and Silver Creek are co-favorites with Monta Vista giving chase.
The sophomore girls have an open door as defending champion Franki Navarro (Madera South) is not listed on the entries. That’s the good news for everyone else. The bad news? Several girls have a chance to get their first win making this a true toss up! Anika McBride (Aptos) was 2nd last year but will have her hands full with Lindsay Allen (Homestead), Kelly Bishop (Monta Vista), Abbey Meck (SLV), Jennifer Foster (Los Gatos), and teammates Brianna Bilter and Emilia Jaiczek (St. Ignatius). Your guess is as good as ours here!
Los Gatos blew everyone away here last year and we’ll see if they can hold to form again with St. Ignatius and Los Altos medaling on paper.         
The freshman girls’ race kicks off the meet and could immediately make decent teams great teams! We never have much information on the young ones so let us know about the stars coming in!

Ever since the CCS meet has moved to Toro Park on alternating years the park records have been constantly taking hits! The two year old course record of 15:02 by CCS star Yohaness Estifanos (Milpitas-2012) should be safe today early in the year but don’t be surprised if Eduardo Herrera (Madera South) takes a shot at it. Chris Foster (Los Gatos) and Steven Sum (Saratoga) may also work together to challenge the time early but may need a full season to get close by CCS Finals. Instead, the top guns here will be shooting to eclipse the 15:34 mark to make the all-time top 25 list! If Miguel Villar (Madera South) in the sophomore race can do it on his own we could see 3-4 guys under that! For the ladies, Tori Tyler (Gunn-2004) blazed a 17:16 course record and threw down a mark that we thought may be out of reach. Anna Maxwell (SLV) had other thoughts and tore the course up on way to a 17:23 2nd best ever at the park last year giving it a scare. We don’t see those times challenged here but Lauren Jacob (Los Altos) has the tools to make it close later on. To make the top 25, the elite girls will have to run 18:23 which is quite challenging this early in the season. We see 2-3 girls capable of that here.
As far as team time records are concerned, the boys from Carlmont dazzled 2 years ago at the CCS Championships with a first ever sub 80:00 clocking at the park with a standing course record of 79:58 averaging just under 16:00 per scorer! Madera South has given the park record a great scare the last few years at Earlybird and may have the horses on deck here to take a shot once again. It will take a very special day from their 4th and 5th men to get it done but they do have the crew up-front to pull it off! Riding the wave of their participation at the Nike Cross Country National Championships along with earning the program’s first ever state plaque may be enough. Finally, the loss of their coach could provide muster to get it done all year in his honor. Madera South will need to average 15:59 for their top 5 and may pull it off! Bellarmine and Los Gatos could also be within a minute or two of the record. The girls’ team time record of 96:01 set by Los Gatos 6 years ago averaging 19:12 for their top 5 girls seems like a tall order this early on. Look for the top CCS teams to take a shot later on at CCS Finals. To crack the top ten team times ever at Toro Park, boys’ teams will have to break 81:39 and girls’ teams 98:30.
Finally, Earlybird has always favored huge teams that can beat the bushes and recruit, recruit, and recruit! Cross Country is a great sport for ANYONE and the meet set-up is geared towards rewarding teams that can cover their bases and field multiple teams at various grade levels and genders. The largest plaque of the day goes to the team that scores well in multiple races and usually is won by a large squad. Bellarmine has been taking the plaque home the last few years and looks as favorites to do so once again! Certainly a feat to be noted, considering they only have boys at the school and have no chance to score in half the races!!!!
Good luck to all and we hope you enjoy the 20th Anniversary Earlybird!
Visit our event website for full coverage!                                             

No comments:

Popular Posts