Watsonville High freshman Katelynn Ruiz won the Cypress Division race on Oct. 30 at the PCAL Cross Country Championships at Toro Park in Salinas. (Raul Ebio/Special to the Pajaronian)

SALINAS—Watsonville High’s Katelynn Ruiz is quickly turning into one of the top cross country runners in the area this season. 

The freshman sensation won the Cypress Division race in 19 minutes, 50 seconds at Saturday morning’s Pacific Coast Athletic League Championships at Toro County Park, helping the Wildcatz win the division’s team title with a score of 34.

“I’m happy about that because a lot of the girls have been working hard and some of them had injuries,” Ruiz said. “I’m proud of them … We work hard in the workouts and everyone is putting in the work and time.” 

Junior Dahlia Barranco (20:40) finished behind Ruiz and senior Dominique Cervantes (22:13) placed 10th for Watsonville, which had six runners finish in the top 20.

Juniors Edith Rodriguez (22:37; 13th), Ana Ruiz (22:41; 14th) and Alexa Pedraza-Quintana (23:02; 18th) all scored for the Wildcatz. 

Ruiz finished second overall in the PCAL behind Gilroy High senior Karina Rodriguez, who won the race in 19:27 to capture the Gabilan division individual title and the best time on the 3-mile course in Salinas.

With the win, the Wildcatz will advance to the Central Coast Section Championship scheduled for Nov. 13 at Crystal Springs Cross Country Course.

Ruiz said she felt nervous prior to Saturday’s league championships because she was going up against some of the best runners in the league. But the butterflies in her stomach quickly went away at the sound of the starting pistol. 

She jumped out to the lead coming out of the gates, holding onto it for nearly a mile until she started to experience arm pain.

“It started hurting like on the last couple hills,” Ruiz said, “I was trying to pump my arms.” 

Rodriguez caught up to Ruiz after the first pass around near the finish line.

Ruiz was content with where she placed in the race, but at the same time, she was dissatisfied she wasn’t able to match or beat her previous best mark, 19:38, at Toro Park.

“I’m a little bit disappointed in myself because I knew I could’ve gotten a better time but I think it’s because I wasn’t kicking for a while,” she said. “I was trying to have some energy for the end.”

Watsonville coach David Knight said this year they got a majority of the runners to buy into what the coaching staff was selling them, especially the idea of working together as a team. He added that what they have right now is a winning formula and the next two weeks will be spent on preparing for the CCS Championship.

“We wanna keep the ball rolling, we want to make sure that on race day we are 100% ready to go,” Knight said.

Ramirez wins Santa Lucia division

St. Francis sophomore Monserrat Ramirez won the Santa Lucia division race in 20:24 on a course that posed many challenges for the runners. But the presence of parents and coaches were a tremendous source of support for the runners.

“It was really good, the hills were the hardest for me,” Ramirez said. “Pushing it at the end and trying to keep up with the rest of the girls worked for me.” 

York School sophomore Izabella Tejeda (20:33) took second, followed by Pacific Collegiate’s Rosa Patten (21:21), Arie Shae McNeil (22:10) and Sophie Mateja (22:11).

With the individual championship, Ramirez qualified for a spot to race in the upcoming CCS championships. Junior Claire Burke finished sixth in a personal best 23:18 and she will also advance with an at-large bid. Arianna Fernandez (27:58) placed 21st for the Sharks.

St. Francis coach Ramona Young said Ramirez and Burke earned all-league status and were awarded the coveted PCAL patch for their efforts.

“Team, team, team is definitely our mantra all season long,” Young said. “They knew from the beginning that was their goal, to get the bid to CCS.” 

The CCS championships will be held at Crystal Springs Cross Country Park in Belmont on Nov. 13. Ramirez, who posted a fifth-place finish in 20:06 at the Crystal Springs Invitational in October, said she’s looking forward to racing on a course she’s familiar with. 

“There is way less hills at Crystal Springs,” Ramirez said. “It’s mostly flat ground and there is that big downhill where you get more momentum.” 

Mission Division

In the mission division, Monte Vista Christian junior Caelan Gilliam placed fourth in 20:37, followed by freshman Kylie Brunelli (21:04) who took ninth. 

North Monterey County sophomore Melissa Macias (21:07) took 10th to help the Condors to a third place finish as a team with a score of 75.

Carmel High’s Ava Ghio (19:56), Christiana Kvitek (20:17) and Isabella Davi (20:34) finished 1-2-3 respectively to help the Padres win the team title with 15 points. 

Junior Zoe Delgado (23:52; 22nd), freshman Nadia Anastacio (23:52; 23), senior Alexia Valadez (24:16; 24), sophomore Natalia Tapia San Miguel (25:09; 26), freshman Isabela Valadez (25:29; 27) and freshman Soraya Perez Ruiz (26:06; 30) all scored for NMC.

*Additional reporting by sports editor Juan Reyes

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