Los Banos High sophomore Keiloni Smith joined the Tigers cross country team this year to stay in shape for track season, where she competes in the 100-yard dash and other sprints.
But on Wednesday, it was just like track season when Smith found herself in a dead sprint against Patterson’s Jenevy Esqueda down the last 100 yards of their 3.1-mile race for the sixth spot (24 minutes, 11 seconds), a key spot for the team standings. Smith overtook Esqueda in the last few feet to help give Los Banos a 23-32 win, despite the laces on her right shoe unraveling after the first mile.
“I was running the last two miles – I ran the whole park, the last two miles my shoes were untied,” Smith said. “Richelle (Delapaz) ... she was like, ‘Watch out, your shoe, your shoe!’ ”
Smith and Delapaz, who finished eighth at 24:21, gave Los Banos valuable finishes in the win. Smith said it was a team effort.
“Especially with Richelle on my side, because she pushes me, and she pushes the girl in front of us. It’s a teamwork kind of thing,” Smith said. “She pushes the girl in front of us, causing them to go faster. And I pass her up, then Richelle comes and we pass that girl up. We work it out together. It’s all about strategy.”
Patterson’s Lupe Ventura blew away the field, finishing first at 20:26. Los Banos twins Brittney Berek (22:24) and Nicole Berek (22:33) followed up in second and third, followed by teammate Maria Garcia (22:43).
It was the first dual meet of the season for the defending Western Athletic Conference champion Tigers, who are competing without top runner Sarah Gama, who sprained a foot over the summer and is expected to return toward the end of the season.
“Sarah was always our Number 1, 2 or 3 finisher, and more often than not, she was our Number 1,” Los Banos coach Elizabeth Stonegrove said. “It hurts not to have her out there because of her speed, but it really also hurts not to have her out there running with the girls, because of her leadership. She is constantly motivating the girls when she’s out there with them. She’s leading the pack. She’s pushing the girls. She’s talking to the girls. She’s encouraging them to run faster and push each other, and we’re missing that right now.”
On the boys side, Christian Beltran was the top LB finisher in third (17:29), behind Patterson’s Nathan Stanton (16:36) and Antonio Vinegas (17:07). Through the first mile, Beltran was about 30 feet behind Stanton, but he fell off in the second half, allowing Vinegas to pass him.
“Christian finished behind Nathan last week (at the WAC preseason meet), and Nathan is Christian’s goal,” Stonegrove said. “I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him yet, but I know he’s going to be disappointed. I think it’s a mental thing for Christian right now, so I have confidence he will rebound.”
LB’s Steve Georgiou finished fourth at 18:25, which Stonegrove said was a big run for him, and teammate Michael Salaz was sixth at 18:45.
The same afternoon, Pacheco’s boys and girls both lost to Ceres at the school’s new course at the San Luis Creek Recreation Area.