BELMONT—It’s been a little more than two decades since the Watsonville High girls’ country team last made a trip to the CIF State Championships.
But the Wildcatz will be back in action after they barely qualified in last week’s Central Coast Section finals.
Watsonville sophomore Katelynn Ruiz and her teammates let out a roar after the initial news broke of them qualifying.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock,” Ruiz said. “It didn’t hit me until my friend was screaming around.”
The scoreboard initially showed that both Watsonville and Santa Teresa were tied at 113 in the Division I field.
Moments later the score changed and it had the ‘Catz sitting in third place with a score of 112, edging the Saints by one point and sending Watsonville to the State finals for the first time since 1999.
“I lost it,” said Watsonville coach David Knight. “This meet, it means so much and I know how much it means to these girls.”
Menlo-Atherton won the team title with a score of 19, followed by Mountain View (62) and Watsonville, which were the top-3 teams in D-I to advance to the CIF State Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno set for Nov. 26.
Knight—who was speechless after the final results—said he knew they had a very special team this year and he wasn’t surprised by their accomplishment.
Ruiz said qualifying as a team was also a sense of relief because her older sister, Layla, didn’t have the opportunity to compete alongside her teammates.
“I’ve had to do that in some races and honestly it sucks a little bit, but you have to tough it out,” she said. “It’s so nice to have people there that I care about and that we’re all going to be there together.”
Ruiz mentioned there’s a sense of comfort knowing she’ll have her teammates and family members there to support each other.
There was already a high chance of her qualifying as one of the top five highest placed individuals in the top-14 that earned a State berth.
Ruiz finished fourth in 18 minutes, 49.4 seconds. She knew it wasn’t going to be handed to her and prior to the race she actually wasn’t expecting to advance.
“I felt a little nervous but I was just trying to trust myself and I told myself that I’ve done all the work for it, and that I could make it,” Ruiz said.
Watsonville senior Dahlia Barranco (20:17.2) took 17th, followed by freshman Dennis Hernandez (20:18.4; 18th), senior Ana Ruiz (20:56.2; 29th), freshman Aaron Gonzalez (21:41.1; 45th), senior Alexa Pedraza-Quintatna (23:47.9; 66th) and senior Edith Rodríguez-Bermúdez (24:59.2; 70th).
Menlo junior Tatum Olesen won the race in 18:33.5, followed by teammates Katherine Lorenz (18:44.4) and Chloe Pilette (18:49.3) for the 1-2-3 finish.
The race got off to a rocky start after a pair of Wildcatz runners tumbled to the ground, which forced a restart. Knight had a bad feeling it was them and it turned out he was correct.
But the girls didn’t make excuses and they bounced right back, he said.
“The ability of the team to turn it around, to literally take a tumble and stand up, and finish the race, not let it distract them, is special,” Knight said.
Knight has seen all the hard work the girls put in during the summer and throughout the season.
He said they put their faith in him as their coach and assured the ‘Catz that qualifying for the CIF State Championships was not out of reach.
“It was not easy but we’re making history, they’re making history,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Watsonville High had a senior athlete by the name of Edith Martinez, which is incorrect. The correct spelling of her name is Edith Rodríguez-Bermúdez, not Edith Martinez.
Aptos High junior Malia Moreno (29:47.1) took 23rd for a top-25 finish in the Division III race.
Kylie Hoornaert won the race in 18:08.1, followed by Burlingame freshman Stella Newman (18:53.1) in second and Westmont junior Tauren Mitchell (18:56.4) in third.
North Monterey sophomore Nadia Anastacio (20:45.0) took 23rd and junior Melissa Macias (20:56.1) placed 24th for a pair of top-25 finishes in the Division IV race.
Scotts Valley junior Ashlyn Boothby won the race in 18:10.5, followed by fellow teammate and sister Amber Boothby (18:29.0) in second and Sacred Heart Prep senior Julia Soderbery (18:47.9) in third.
Scotts Valley won its second straight section title with a team score of 34. The Condors finished sixth as a team with a score of 151, which was just 44 points shy of earning the third and final qualifying spot for the CIF State Championships.
Monte Vista Christian sophomore Kylie Brunelli and senior Caelan Gilliam both qualified for next week’s CIF State Championships.
Brunelli (20:16.8) took 13th and Gilliam (20:36.0) placed 14th in the Division V race, finishing in the top five highest placed individuals in the top-16 that earned a State berth.