Atwater High girls show cross country is truly a team sport

slynch@mercedsunstar.comOctober 29, 2013 

— Ken Rhoades acknowledges he's had more talented cross country teams.

If anything, it makes the successes of the 2013 Atwater girls team all the more satisfying.

He calls them a blue-collar unit. A group not comprised of individual stars, but of workhorses that often sacrifice for the team's success.

It's a big part of why the Falcons have run off 30 league victories in a row and are looking for their third consecutive Central California Conference championship.

"We have one pretty talented, natural runner and six really hard workers," Rhoades said. "For a lot of our kids, cross country isn't their main sport or wasn't their main sport when they started school.

"They've put in a lot of effort to get where they are and, while this isn't the most talented team we've had, I think they're probably the most savvy.

"People think of cross country as an individual sport, but you can have a great one or two runner and not win league.

"It's all about how those fours, fives and sixes interact with the rest of the team and work together to get the best result."

Atwater will look to close out a second consecutive perfect league run today at the CCC Championships. The 3-mile varsity race will be held at Applegate Park with the varsity boys and girls set to get underway at 11 and 11:30 a.m., respectively.

The Falcons just need to place third to win their fourth title in five years, but their ambitions are a little higher than that.

"There's definitely going to be some emotions out on the course," said senior captain Joy Wilcox, who has been on a pair of championship teams. "It's the last league meet ever for the seniors. We definitely want to put on a show."

The Falcons have a little added incentive after their last showing on the Applegate Park course at the Merced County Championships. The bulk of the team was stricken with a flu bug and the team had to settle for second place.

"That was a rough day," senior Janeth Espinosa said. "Girls were puking at the finish line. It was pretty bad.

"We know we can run better than that and we're excited for (today)."

Golden Valley's Mariyah Banks, who won the Merced County race, is considered the favorite. She'll be challenged by teammate Mya Bond, Atwater's Jacqueline Magana and Buhach Colony's Alissa Rivera.

The Merced boys are looking to wrap up their first league title in 19 years.

They'll be paced by Abel Aleman and Daniel Ambriz. Golden Valley's Juan Garcia and Guillermo Rivas will look to challenge them for individual honors.

"Now is the time of year when things get really exciting," Atwater girls coach Lexi Parle said. "I'm really proud of the chemistry this team has developed and how they've responded to the goals we've set for them, a lot of which were pretty ambitious.

"Finishing off the CCC season is the next goal on that list and ultimately we're hoping to have maybe our best showing at sectionals."

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