The cupboard won’t necessarily be bare at Ridgeview, where there’s still plenty of talented runners on campus, but the Wolf Pack cross country team may never be the same.
But that’s to be expected following the graduation of four seniors — Alex Cuevas, Ased Adus, Payton Fox and William Gonzalez — who helped Ridgeview to a Division III state crown, three straight Central Section championships and four South Yosemite League titles.
“They’re a special group,” said Wolf Pack cross country coach Greg Dabbs of his runners, which includes 2019 graduates Bryan Gaxiola, Jonah Molina and Jordan Bueno. “The last few years I’ve been very lucky to have that special group come through. And you don’t get that every year.”
This year’s graduates were all rewarded for their accomplishments — in the form of scholarships to compete at four-year colleges.
“Most of the students we get in really started running in high school,” Dabbs said. “They’ll run two to three miles at the junior high level, but they weren’t competitive runners. This group just came in and they had goals, and their goal freshman year was to go to a four-year school. It’s just awesome to sit back and reflect on all the things they accomplished.”
The most decorated of the four is Alex Cuevas, who recovered from a serious car accident to win the Central Section Division III individual title as a junior.
“After my car accident, the whole cross country team welcomed me back with even more love and caring, so I really grew stronger from there,” said Cuevas, who missed most of his sophomore season after suffering a fractured left eye socket, several small fractures on the back of his skull, and dislocated both hips in the car accident. “And then getting back to where I was before with my competitiveness, I mean, they were there and they saw it happen. The bond grew stronger with all the things we’ve been through.”
Now Cuevas’ is set for the next chapter in his cross country career. He received a scholarship to run at UC Davis, where he will be separated from his running mates for the first time.
“It’s obviously going to be different,” Cuevas said. “It’s not going to feel the same, but Payton is not going to be too far from me. So we’re most likely going to try to hang out whenever we have time. It’s going to be an adjustment to adapt to a new team.”
He’ll also have an opportunity to compete against Fox, who will be attending Saint Mary’s College, located about 40 miles away in Moraga. The two have already planned to hang out whenever possible and even travel to visit Adus at his school choice, Cal State San Marcos.
“It feels amazing,” said Fox of him and his teammates receiving scholarships. “It was a dream come true. We all worked so hard, we all had the same goals and we were all of the same mindset. Our success was no accident. We all committed to it, we all said at the beginning of each year that this is what we want to do, we have to put in the work and we’ll do it.”
Adus, who immigrated to Bakersfield from Ethiopia in the seventh grade, is also excited about his college future, while at the same time reflecting on the important friendships he developed at Ridgeview.
“I’m going to miss them a lot,” said Adus, who suffered a back injury prior to his senior year. “It’s something I really enjoyed. Our friendship was really close. We spent so much time together, in class, out of class. So it’s going to be a little bit hard moving on, but I’m kind of ready for the challenge.”
The same can also be said for Gonzalez, who had never flown on an airplane prior to visiting Minot State, a NCAA Division II school located in North Dakota that he will attend in the fall.
“We’ve all been close since freshman year, and I probably won’t find that same group of guys (at Minot State), because we’re so close-knit,” said Gonzalez, who considered enrolling in a California college to be closer to his Wolf Pack teammates. “But I decided to go out of state and kind of do my own thing because I think that was the best opportunity.
“My experience at Ridgeview was something that I never thought would happen. Going into my freshman year I never thought we would win three section titles, four straight league titles and a state championship. I didn’t even know about cross country my freshman year. Payton asked me to join … and it was a really great experience going to compete at a high level. It was just fun overall and something I won’t ever forget.”
Dabbs echoes that sentiment.
“A lot of it is hard work,” Dabbs said. “I can’t preach that enough. These kids would grind, day-in and day-out, and they never stopped believing in each other. When Payton got hurt, William, Ased and Alex were with him every day with him, telling him, ‘you can do this’ and ‘you can get back.’ Or when Ased had his injury … They never got down on each other. They always believed in each other. That’s like the coolest part of it.
“At the end of the day, I think that bond is the one thing that I’ll take away and remember as a coach. That friendship and love that you have for your teammates. They’re an amazing group of kids. I’ve been blessed.”