SALINAS — Watsonville High freshman Layla Ruiz has continuously opened eyes during her first season of high school cross country.

Saturday was no different.

Ruiz not only cruised to the individual Pacific division title at the Monterey Bay League Championships but finished just four seconds behind the Gabilan division champion, Notre Dame-Salinas sophomore Angela Leavitt, in the league’s overall results.

“She expressed interest in wanting to win the whole thing earlier in the week and she really pushed today,” said Watsonville coach Rob Cornett. “I let her know that it’s not a disappointment if she finishes second or third — don’t overwork yourself. But, sure enough, she did a fine job and ran really well. She was right there.”

Ruiz led for a majority of the final mile on the 3-mile Toro Park course but Leavitt edged her in a foot race down the closing 100 meters. She crossed the finish line with a time of 19 minutes, 23 seconds to become Watsonville’s first league champ since Martha Luna in 1989.

“The race was back and forth but that last 100 meters she passed me up,” Ruiz said. “I’m still happy that I pushed myself.”

Ruiz entered as the heavy favorite to win the Pacific division title after placing first in all three center meets throughout the year. Her performance on Saturday only solidified her as one of the top young runners in the Central Coast Section, a position she will look to further cement at the section meet in two weeks’ time back at Toro.

Ruiz said she has her eyes set on qualifying for the California Interscholastic Federation state meet. Her coaches believe she could very well become the first female runner from Watsonville to qualify since 2000.

“We’re already thinking that’s where we belong, that’s where we want to be,” said Watsonville coach Tony Roman. “Today’s performance was great. It tested her limits, which is nice. Now our goal is just to keep her positive, keep her healthy, keep her inspired and motivated to get her ready for the next level to take care of business.”

Watsonville’s senior Daniela Salazar also ran a solid race, finishing third overall and second in the MBL-P with a time of 19:44. She will join Ruiz and Carolina Avalos, a freshman who placed 13th (22:57) in the MBL-P, at CCS as individual qualifiers from Watsonville.

Pajaro Valley High freshman Karen Martinez took 12th, the highest a female runner from the school has placed since 2011, and will also return to Toro for the CCS meet. She is the first female runner from Pajaro Valley to make the section meet since the entire team advanced in 2014.

The rest of the Grizzlies and Wildcatz, however, will not be running at CCS.

As a team, Watsonville took third (85) in the MBL-P and Pajaro Valley finished fifth (102).

Gilroy High and its impeccable depth was first with a score of 34. Monterey High landed in a distant second with 63 points.

Seaside High was fourth (95) and Monte Vista Christian rounded out the division in sixth (146).

M.V.C. sophomore Sophia Willoughby took sixth (21:01) in the MBL-P and will be back with the entire Mustangs’ squad for CCS as the division’s lone Division IV entry.

In the Gabilan, Leavitt won the individual crown but San Benito High reigned supreme over the division for the sixth straight year, edging North Monterey County High, 54-84.

Salinas High (92), Alisal High (95), North Salinas High (100), Alvarez High (106) and ND-Salinas (137) followed San Benito and N.M.C. in that order.

The Condors’ five scoring runners were all within 13 places of each other. Freshmen Crystal Baeza and Andrea Villegas led N.M.C. in 10th (20:31) and 15th (20:53), respectively, while juniors Faith Mora (17th, 20:57) and Daniela Munoz (19th, 21:15) also placed within the top 20. Senior Sarah Delgado (23rd, 21:41) completed the Condors’ score.

N.M.C.’s girls will advance to the CCS meet as a team.


Alisal edged San Benito, 50-52, to win the Gabilan division, while Watsonville finished second behind Gilroy, 36-62, in the Pacific.

Monterey junior Isaac Gensel won the Pacific division individual title and Palma junior Sam Lavorato repeated as the Gabilan division champion.

The Wildcatz squeaked into CCS as a team, thanks to juniors Jesus Alvarez and Lucas Ruiz. Alvarez took third (17:10) and Ruiz was 10th (17:58) in the Pacific division race. Sophomores Miguel Leon (12th, 18:07) and Damian Rivas (16th, 18:19) and freshman Domingo Martinez (21st, 18:54) also scored for Watsonville.

Pajaro Valley senior Luis Leonor finished eighth (17:57) in the Pacific division race but missed qualifying for CCS by one spot.

N.M.C. took fourth (107) as a team in the Gabilan division behind third-place Palma (68) and qualified for CCS.

Senior Edgar Medina paced the Condors in fourth (16:47) overall.

Salinas finished fifth (130) in the Gabilan, Alvarez was sixth (155) and North Salinas took seventh (158).

In the Pacific, Monterey (73), M.V.C. (101), Seaside (113), Christopher High (124) and P.V. (150) also competed.

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