Alex Cuevas was just a normal high school cross country runner gearing up for his sophomore year at Ridgeview when everything changed in a blink.

As a passenger in his mother’s car along with his younger sister near Lamont on Aug. 14, the three were struck on the driver’s side by a semitrailer in the intersection of Panama and Union.

The accident put his mother, Tomasa, in the hospital for nearly a month and Cuevas suffered a fracture in the back of his skull, he said, and his hips were dislocated because of the seat belt. The accident is still visible on Cuevas with the swelling and darkness that still lingers from a fracture of his left eye socket.

While his 12-year-old sister, Maritza, was someone left with “just a scratch on her head, thankfully,” life for Cuevas and the Ridgeview boys cross country team was sent into a tailspin.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen. It was scary,” Ridgeview coach Greg Dobbs said. “(Former Ridgeview coach) Adam (Setzer) and I were on the phone for probably 20 seconds in complete silence. It took a few days to recover as a team. The kids were pretty down about it because he is an amazing kid and we are a close group.”

While Cuevas recovered after being transferred from Kern Medical to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, the rest of the Ridgeview team dedicated the season to Cuevas, with or without him.

Thankfully for everyone involved, Cuevas, who was one of the top runners on the team as a freshman last season, has returned and the Wolf Pack are putting together one of the best seasons in school history.

The Wolf Pack boys and girls swept the South Yosemite League meet on Wednesday at West High. The boys, led by senior Austin Garcia (15:25), swept the top-five positions while Isabel Medina won the girls title in a time of 18:52.

The boys are ranked No. 2 overall in the Central Section by Larry Lung and are the sixth-ranked team in Division III in the state by PrepCalTrack.com. The Wolf Pack are the only section team ranked in any of the five state sectional rankings.

With Garcia, Bryan Gaxiola, Ased Adus, Payton Fox and Gerardo Moreno pacing the Wolf Pack while Cuevas gets back into form, the Wolf Pack are the favorites to win the D-III section title next month in Fresno.

“To see him come back and running with us is beautiful,” Gaxiola said. “I love running next to him at practice and being able to hang out with him. We are just blessed to have him back here.”

Dobbs said his coaching staff “preaches family” to the runners, so when a standout like Cuevas was injured in the frightening way he was, it was more about coming together for a friend and not just a teammate.

“It wasn’t about running, it was about coming together as a team,” Dobbs said. “It’s emotional now to talk about it. We are just glad he’s back and we missed him.”

Gaxiola quickly realized how fast life can come at you and found a new perspective after Cuevas’ accident.

“One day you are just out here running then the next day it can all change,” Gaxiola said. “After seeing what happened to him, we are not taking anything for granted. We are working a lot harder this year and aiming for that Valley championship.”