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August 19, 2022

Wildcatz hitting stride at the right time | Cross country

Buoyed by young runners, Watsonville ready for PCAL Championships

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville High freshman Katelynn Ruiz is hitting her stride at the right time with the cross country league championships quickly approaching.   

She was the first runner to cross the finish line to help lead the Wildcatz to a team win in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division Center Meet No. 3 on Oct.13.

Ruiz won the 3-mile race in 19 minutes, 38 seconds at Toro Park in Salinas, helping the Wildcatz win the team win.

“I didn’t know that I was able to do that, but I tried my best that day,” she said. “It was fun, though. I think I could’ve done better, too.”

Ruiz has been consistent throughout the league season by finishing no worse than second place. She was the runner-up (20:03) in the first league central meet at Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville, finishing behind Christopher junior Sarah Arcelo (19:43) in the 2.93-mile race.

Ruiz placed second (20:29) in the second central meet at York School behind teammate Dahlia Barranco, who won in 20:23. The 1-2 finish helped the Wildcatz notch the team victory. 

Ruiz said she was afraid of going into the first couple of meets because she wasn’t used to the atmosphere. She was especially nervous because there was also pressure to succeed as her sister, record-setting runner Layla Ruiz, did just five years ago.

But now she’s made a name for herself and Ruiz is feeling a lot more confident with the PCAL championships around the corner.

“I’ve just been trusting myself a bit more,” she said.

Ruiz got some advice from her uncle who told her to just try her best and always beat the previous time to get better.

“It’s not always about what place you get, it’s about beating your time and everything comes after it,” she said. “If you try your hardest and you have a good mindset, you’ll do good.”

Ruiz’s older sister was the most decorated runner to put on a Wildcatz uniform. Katelynn said she wants to do well but she’s not the same person as her sibling, noting that they have different techniques on how they run.

Barranco, a junior, said she believes the team is in great shape right now. She said they worked hard the entire season and the coaches have been constantly reassuring them with positive feedback.

She said it’s been a neat experience to see the underclassmen develop.

“As a team, we’re all just improving and every day I can see the improvement in everybody,” Barranco said.

Her goal this season was to get in the best shape of her life, which she feels she’s at, and break her personal records. During the offseason, she put lots of mileage into her training along with a focus on her health and wellbeing. 

Barranco also did some cross-training for the first time and she’s already noticed the big improvements. 

“I did feel the benefits of doing that this year,” she said.   

On the boys’ side, Sebastian Abonce is one of three seniors on the team that has looked impressive throughout the season.

He helped the Wildcatz win the first and third PCAL Cypress Central Meet, and they placed third in the second central meet. They placed second at the H20-Melon Run and 19th at the Crystal Springs Invitational.  

Abonce said a majority of the runners have a partner they should stay with so that way they can have a better team score at the end.

“We’ve been putting in lots of effort and we’ve been picking it up,” Abonce said. “We all finish at the same time, so that’s what gets us more points.”

As for Abonce, his assignment is to try to stay as close to the next fastest runner as possible.

Abonce, who is also on the boys’ soccer team, suffered a foot injury during a soccer training session but he still competed in the third central meet on Oct. 13. The end result was a season-best 17:27 to help lead Watsonville to a team title that afternoon.

Freshman Rodrigo Barranco said it’s been fun watching everyone working together and training hard to push each other.

“It’s always a great time running with everyone here,” he said.

Barranco, who is Dahlia’s younger brother, said being able to run with the upperclassmen pushed him to run faster. Some techniques he’s been working on are picking up his feet faster and learning how to pace himself so he can maintain during a race.

“Hopefully use that to speed up during races to catch up to the other varsity boys,” he said.

The PCAL championships are scheduled for Oct. 30 at Toro Park in Salinas. Barranco said he’s been training harder than he usually does, especially because it’s the biggest, and most challenging, race of his young career.

“It’s exciting, also nerve-racking, because they’re really good and I’ll push myself even more,” he said.

Abonce said one of the coaches showed him the league championship banners from previous winners. The last time the Wildcatz won a league title was in 2015.

“I’m trying to see if we can get 2021 up there,” he said. 

As for the eldest Barranco, she said bringing home a league title for the girls’ team would be very deserving because of all the hard work they put in. 

“I realize that as a group, we all worked really hard,” she said. “Lots of the seniors that have been on the team since their freshman year, winning the title as a team and for the school, would be rewarding.”

Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.

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