A week before the Central Section cross country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno, all eyes around Kern County will be on the local runners at Hart Park on Thursday.
In a four-hour window beginning at 10 a.m. the South, Southeast, Southwest Yosemite and South Sequoia leagues will compete in the league championships at Hart Park.
There is plenty of intrigue with a little more than two weeks left in the season that concludes with the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park on Nov. 24.
Plenty of teams with section gold aspirations
First and foremost is the Ridgeview boys cross country team, which won the section Division III title last season and finished sixth at the state meet last November.
The Wolf Pack are ranked No. 1 overall in the section by Larry Lung’s rankings and are a runaway favorite to repeat as league champions at 11:30 a.m.
Junior Alex Cuevas currently has the fourth-fastest 5,000 meter time in the state at 15 minutes, 4 seconds. He recorded that at the Jim White Invitational on Oct. 25.
Six Wolf Pack runners finished in the top-nine at the section finals last season while Cuevas, Bryan Gaxiola, Ased Adus and Gerardo Moreno all return. Add in senior Jonah Molina and Ridgeview is widely considered a state title contender in D-III.
The Liberty boys will run at 1 p.m. in the SWYL finals as the Patriots are ranked No. 1 in D-II in the section. Senior Joseph Mikhail is one of the top individual runners in D-II in the section.
On the girls side, Wasco and the SSL finals will go off at 12:30. The Tigers are ranked No. 1 in D-III in the section and are led by senior Sayra Raya, who finished second in the D-IV finals last season.
Highland is in the SEYL girls finals in the first race of the day at 10 a.m. The Scots are the top-ranked team in D-IV. The Scots have plenty of youth to build on. The top four runners are all sophomores, led by Haley Ulloa.
Can Mota win it all?
Since Marcus Mota stepped on campus at Stockdale, the pressure has seemed to always be there right from the start knowing he was coming off the heels of Blake Haney, highly regarded as one of the best boys cross country and long-distance track and field athletes in section history.
Mota has seemingly taken on the pressure and is now one of the top runners in the state.
At noon, Mota will go for his fourth SWYL league title a week before he attempts a second consecutive section title.
Mota has ran only seven times this season, but four of them were in elite races and Mota was right in the thick of each.
Mota set a personal-record in 3-miles in a third place finish at the Woodbridge Classic in 14:05 on Sept. 15 and he set a personal-best in the 5,000 meters in 15:13 at the second SWYL meet on Oct. 17.
Mota finished 18th in the D-I state finals last season, his best finish, and is seeking his first state medal after finishing seventh in the 3,200 finals in the track and field championships the previous two seasons.
Is McFarland poised for another state bid?
With help from Disney and nine state titles on its resume, the McFarland boys cross country team is one of the most recognizable in the country. The nine state championships still stands tied atop as the most in California cross country history on the boys side.
But it’s been the girls team in recent years that has garnered a lot of the attention, and for good reason.
Led by 2017 BVarsity All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Hilda Gonzalez, the Cougars finished third in the D-I section finals to advance to state in D-I.
It’s an incredible feat for a small-school public school with just 928 students on campus. The average enrollment of the other 19 teams that placed in the top-20 in the girls D-I state finals last season is 2,612, with the lowest coming from Davis High outside of Sacramento at 1,683.
Led once again by Gonzalez, senior Dede Salcedo, sophomore Kayli Gonzalez, junior Brianna Valles and freshman Jocelyn Vasquez, the Cougars are currently ranked No. 3 in D-I behind Clovis-Buchanan and Clovis West.