They say all good things come in threes, and anyone that has followed the Ridgeview boys cross country team knows that’s certainly true.
Fresh off winning its third straight Central Section title, the Wolf Pack will be relying on a trio of seniors to lead the way as it heads into Saturday’s CIF State Championships at Fresno’s Woodward Park.
Alex Cuevas, Ased Adus and Payton Fox all figure to be the thick of things when Ridgeview looks to win a second straight state title, only this year they will have to do it at the Division II level, thanks to competitive equity rules.
“It’s always the goal to peak at the end of the year,” Wolf Pack coach Greg Dabbs said. “I feel like they’re ready. It’s as much physical as it is mental in this sport. I’d say it’s more mental than physical. So it’s really up to them. This is their last opportunity to show off all that hard work.”
Hard work is nothing new to Cuevas, Adus and Fox. Good friends away from the sport, the three have put in more than their fair share of training — and then some — as they’ve each been forced to overcome major injuries the past three seasons.
“It’s been obstacles for sure,” Dabbs said. “You get over one and then another one pops up. But I would say the difference in what these kids have been able to do is their mental toughness. They are so mentally tough.”
The injury bug hit hard when just prior to his sophomore season, Cuevas was injured in a serious car accident. He suffered a fractured left eye socket, several small fractures on the back of his skull, and dislocated both hips.
His injuries required several months of rehabilitation and forced him to miss half of the cross country season. It was during this time that Cuevas grew even closer to his teammates, specifically to Adus and Fox.
“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 was second in the section D-II race this year despite battling an illness that he’s endured for several weeks. “And then getting back to where I was before with my competitiveness, I mean, they were there and they saw it happen. Then when I got back, some of their (injuries) started happening and they were asking me for advice. I feel like I was almost repaying them by helping them. But for sure, the bond grew stronger with all the things we’ve been through."
That set the stage for an amazing comeback, one that finished that season with an individual Division III Central Section title as the Wolf Pack captured the section and state championships.
Watching that success was difficult for Fox, who was diagnosed with three stress fractures in his right leg the previous summer as the team was preparing for his junior season. Fox’s leg was in a cast for three months, and he then required another three months in a walking boot, forcing him to miss the entire season.
“It was rough, I mean it was getting to the point where personally I was really discouraged and I didn’t know if I would be able to run again, and I was kind of losing hope,” Fox said. “But we were all there for each other. That’s what makes it so much easier. Just having the team aspect of it all.”
After a year away from the sport he loves, Fox has returned to form this season. He has posted personal records at three different distances, including the 5K, when he finished in 16:21.9 at the Asics Clovis Invitational last month.
“Going into our senior year it got really interesting because I was coming back from an injury slowly, Ased got injured over the summer and Alex was up-and-down being sick and stuff, and he had his car accident going into sophomore year,” Fox said. “We all just gave each other the confidence.
"But Alex being injured and Ased makes you realize it’s just part of the sport. Injuries are probably the toughest part, but you learn the most from them and it really makes you appreciate the peaks of it. Having success and having a PR after going through all of that, it really solidifies why we go through it all.”
Adus joined the walking wounded early in the summer when he injured his lower back while overdoing it a bit during a summer trip to the beach. The injury forced him to miss two months of summer workouts, which led to additional ailments as he looked to return to form too quickly, he says.
"I was just going back and forth (swimming) at the beach and the water was pretty cold,” said Adus, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia midway through his seventh-grade year. “With me going back and forth so many times (swimming in the cold water), my lower back muscles holding my spine shrank and they weren’t stable enough."
The result was a lot of pain, not only walking, but sleeping. Running was out of the question.
“I missed out on all preseason training, so when I came back to my first race I was behind compared to where my teammates were expected to be. So as soon as I got back with the team I was just forcing myself to stay on top, and I didn’t gradually move onto it, which caused me to have different issues on my body like my hamstring problems, hip problems from doing high mileage right away because I didn’t build up to it.”
Despite the extra ailments, Adus is thankful for the support his teammates offered during this time, a time when he specifically relied on Fox the most.
“All my teammates have helped me, especially Payton,” said Adus, who finished third in D-III at the section meet in 15.57.9. “He’s given me a lot of motivation this season. He’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot from missing out on the entire cross country and track season. He was my guide to get back into shape without hurting myself. Even though I’m having small issues, without his help it would have been a lot worse.”
With the trio back, and seemingly as healthy as they’ve been all year, Dabbs is looking forward to seeing what they can do in Saturday’s state championships.
“It’s exciting stuff to sit back and realize that Alex had the car accident and was gone (from practice),” Dabbs said. “We thought he might miss the rest of his high school career, and Payton got hurt and then Ased. Just to see the three being able to get one more race, it’s pretty awesome to watch.”