Baler women’s cross country on course for back-to-back championships

With many returning runners, Hollister High is well positioned.

Head coach Ralph Chavez has reason to be optimistic about Hollister High School women’s cross-country team scoring back-to-back Pacific Coast Athletic League championships: Last year’s team returns with the loss of just one runner , a senior graduate.

“Everything is going great,” Chavez said. “We’re picking up where we left off last season and the girls are looking very strong. Last year they were in PCAL’s toughest division and won it, so this year it’s up to them to defend it.

Chavez said given the work they did last year, he expected the girls to win the title.

“It was a good group of runners who had a solid base,” he said. “During COVID, they were at limited practices that we could do, and they were running alone. And when the competitions started last year, they were ready to go.

It won’t be as easy for the girls this year, though. According to Chavez, the competition will be tighter.

“We’re going to face Carmel, who just moved into our division,” he said. “They’re a tough team and were the Mission League champions last year. They’ve sent girls to the state championships, and their whole team is coming back this year too.

One thing that impresses Chavez about the women’s team is the work ethic they bring on a daily basis.

“They show up at training and never make excuses for the kinds of training we’re going to do,” he said. “They run together. What I mean by that is that they are in a tight network. They work together, they laugh together, and they lean on each other when they need support. It’s not just running, but everything else too. This makes them a better base group when training because they aren’t just there for themselves.

Chavez has identified three returning runners who will lead the team this year.

“Kendra Melching is a junior and our #1 runner,” he said. “She finished the highest of championship finals last year. She is a gifted runner and comes in and does everything to maintain that. Melching, 16, has been running since sixth grade, starting the sport as a form of conditioning for football.This year, she is looking to improve her results.

“I wasn’t super happy with my time last year,” she said. “But I followed the training program that the coach put in place for us, which was generally very good. And I ran a lot during the summer, which is the personal dedication part. It it takes a certain personality to run cross-country and, for me, going out for a run is just the best thing to do.

The eldest Melina Chavez, 17, is the coach’s daughter and made it to every league last year in the final. “She works a lot here and at home,” he said. “She’s a good athlete and she’s earned the place she’s in now.” Melina, surprisingly, only started running in first grade.

“I played softball and soccer, she says, and I never ran. My family is all runners and I never joined them until I started high school. The hard part about starting late as a runner is the mental aspect of it. During a race, you are always mentally battling with yourself, and you just have to pass it to reach the finish line.

Gabriella Romero, 17, is a senior and also participates in track and field.

“Gaby was a college student for all of his competitive years,” he said. “She came back much stronger this year than last year. She is an exceptional athlete. Romero, however, is far more critical of his efforts.

“I was in crisis last year,” she said. “I was doing my best, but I didn’t see much improvement. I was doing extra workouts, but my times were getting really high. I do a lot of the same things now, but with more recovery. I learned how much recovery can help my muscles. Every year you do it, no matter how experienced you are, it’s going to hurt.

Unlike last year, Hollister High will not be hosting any cross-country events. Their next meeting is the Gabilan meeting on September 29 at Toro Park.

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