LEADING THE WAY Aptos High juniors Trent Noski and Brooke Willoughby are leading this year's Mariners cross country teams. (Photo by Juan Reyes)

APTOS—The Aptos High cross country program got off to a smooth running start to begin the fall sports season. 

For junior Brook Willoughby, returning to her favorite activity in the world was more than just getting back to a traditional routine.

“Getting back to a real season has been really, really great for me. Really great for my mental health and all that,” she said. “It means everything to me to be back.”

Willoughby is ranked as the No. 3 runner in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League behind the Boothby sisters of Scotts Valley High. Sophomore Ashlyn and junior Amber are ranked 1 and 2, respectively. 

Willoughby said one of her goals is to take the top spot in the SCCAL, and in order to do so she’s going to have to work twice as hard.

“Running harder, running longer, putting in the extra hours and if there’s no practice run on your own,” she said. “I’ve been racing against them for a couple of years, so strategize against them. Work to stay one step ahead.”

Willoughby said she’s still feeling great since the season began in August. 

“I love this team, it’s my joy,” she said. “We can do whatever we put our minds to.”

The Mariners are coming off a shortened season that saw a lot of success thanks to a deep roster. But Susana Estrada and Kirsten Martin graduated and the team also lost pair of other runners to commitments in other sports programs. 

Aptos coach Dan Gruber said some runners are improving and he believes they still have a good chance at the SCCAL title. 

He said he likes the attitude of the team and there are some returning runners who have stepped it up.

“We’re not bad, we are moving along,” he said. “A lot of inexperience in the racers because it’s the first time for varsity for all but two of them.”

Willoughby said the team is a little on the younger side but they should still be solid with a deep roster that includes runners such as Rachel Hoops and Kathleen Allari.

They’ll need everyone to step it up as the season winds down to the league championship and the Central Coast Section postseason at the end of October.

“I think we’re a strong team,” she said. “If we can tell ourselves that we can do it, we’ll do it.”

On the boys’ team, juniors Trent Noski and Chase Jacques-Maynes are leading a much less experienced squad that features a majority of underclassmen. 

Gruber said that Noski is a talented runner and Jacques-Maynes has the potential of becoming a top 5 runner once he gets into shape. But then there’s a big drop-off.

The Mariners lost three seniors: Ben Laughlin, John Eikemeyer and Aidan Tomasini to graduation.

“We haven’t been this down in a long time,” he said.

Sophomore Evan Niles has been improving as the season progresses but was recently sidelined with shin splints. He should be making a return soon, Gruber said.

The Mariners lost their league opener against Scotts Valley—this year’s favorite to win the SCCAL. 

Noski said he’s starting to feel a lot better about the team after beating San Lorenzo Valley High on Sept. 23 in the teams’ SCCAL meet. 

“I think we’re pretty strong and we can hit second place for league this year,” he said. 

Noski said one of his personal goals this season was to break 15 minutes, 30 seconds at the 3-mile Pinto Lake County Park course. He hit 16:12 at the Crystal Springs Invitational, which he was pleased with especially because it’s a slower course.

“Definitely in the season, I’ve been working and hitting those paces during the workouts and trying to really push myself there,” Noski said.

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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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