The Santa Barbara City College cross country teams competed at the Western State Conference Championships on Friday at Arroyo Vista Park and were led by Sage Holter, who won the women’s 5K.
On the men’s side, two of three Vaquero runners finished in the top-42 to earn All-Conference status.
WOMEN’S RACE — 5K
After two days of 90-degree temps, all 13 Western State Conference teams were pleased to find a sunny 77-degree day with pleasant breezes upon their arrival to Moorpark’s Arroyo Vista Community Park.
The mostly flat course of grass, dirt and pavement pointed to an opportunity for fast times, not always the case in cross country racing.
For individuals racing without full scoring teams, the primary goal of the day was to place in the top half of the field and to be one of the top seven individual finishers in order to qualify for the Southern California Championships.
The top 42 finishers also earn All-Conference honors with places 1-14 being first team, 15-28 second team and 29-42 honorable mention.
Sage Holter was the sole representative to compete for the Vaqueros, but did not let that stop her from making her mark on the field.
Having placed second three weeks ago at the WSC Preview meet, she set out with the leaders over the first long opening stretch of the race.
By the end of the first kilometer, the race had formed three distinct groups of two leading the field, with Sage settling into the second group with a runner from College of the Canyons. These two came through the mile mark at 5:50 about 10 seconds behind Rain Gomez of Bakersfield and Sophia Godina of Ventura College.
Gomez stretched out her lead over the next mile, while Sage solidified herself in third place, now about 12 seconds off the lead. But this is where Sage began to rely on her strength and worked on reeling in Godina.
By the end of the fourth kilometer, Sage was in second place and had closed the gap on Gomez to 6 seconds, but Samantha Medrano of Glendale College had closed on both runners and was now in third place just 3 seconds behind Sage.
With 600 meters to go, all three runners were together, and it would be a battle to the finish.
First Gomez moved back to the lead, but both Sage and Medrano fought back up to Gomez’s shoulder by 300 meters to go. The three battled there for a moment, but with 250 meters to go, Sage dug deep, found another gear and stormed away for the 5-second win in a lifetime best 5K time of 18:45.
“I kind of just decided I wanted to win toward the end,” Sage said after the race, “And I really pushed myself … probably harder than I ever have. That last 1,000 meters, I just put it all out there. And I’m happy with how I did.” Sage added, “I didn’t expect to win, but half-way through the race I shifted from focusing on myself and my own goals to okay I want to win this.”
Coach Fickerson concluded: “We had a race plan going in, but it didn’t really pan out the way I expected, so Sage had to think on her feet and race with her own instincts. She ran really patient and within herself for the first half of the race, but what truly set her apart on this day was her strength and her will to win over the final mile.
“To trust herself to battle back from 10 seconds down over the final mile and then have to stave off multiple attacks from two runners at the front — that showed a really gutsy effort and a mentally strong runner. I was really impressed with this win, and I’m very proud of her today. She really earned this victory.”
Sage was the first runner from Santa Barbara to win the women’s championship in more than 15 years and also earned first-team All-Conference honors with her finish. Medrano finished second in 18:51, Gomez 3rd in 18:59. Glendale College came back from a second place finish at the WSC Preview Meet to win their 17th consecutive Western State Conference championship scoring 50 points to the 61 of Bakersfield. College of the Canyons was 3rd in 89.
Next up is the Southern California Regional Championship at Bakersfield’s Kern County Soccer Park on Nov. 4. Women will race at 10 a.m., followed by the men at 11.
MEN’S RACE — 4 MILES
Since the start of the season, the three Vaquero men have had their sights set on one primary goal: qualifying for the CCCAA State Championships and running their best race of the season at Woodward Park, Fresno. Step No. 1 toward that end would be to advance out of the Western State Conference to earn their spot in the Southern California Regional Championships.
Each of the three men of Santa Barbara had their own obstacles coming into this race. Alex Rosillo had struggled with poor races leading up to the championships, Sam Buenaventura had missed some training with a knee injury and was still dealing with some pain, and Ben had to move up at least 15 spots to put himself in with a chance to qualify.
All three men set themselves up well over the opening mile with Alex leading the way around 25th place, Sam hovering in the mid 30’s and Ben running spot on his goal of 50th place. Over the next 2 miles the Vaqueros held their positions well with Alex fighting back and forth with a few runners, Sam drifting back just a few spots, but still in a strong position and Ben gamely holding on to his 50th place spot at each checkpoint.
It would all come down to the final mile. The aggressive strategy caught up to all three runners as they lost some places over that final mile, but they fought hard all the way to the line.
Alex finished almost a minute faster than he had run all season to end up 28th place at 22:00. This placed him as the first individual qualifier to the Southern California Regional Championships.
Next in for the Vaqueros was Sam, who held on for a 43rd place finish, safely in the top half of the 99-man field and qualified for SoCal in fifth position.
Bennett ran a superb race, improving 90 seconds on his previous best 4-mile time and moving up 12 spots from three weeks ago, but with his 54th place finish, he was out of the top half and so qualifying was out of the picture, thus ending his season at the WSC Championships. Alex earned 2nd team all-conference honors with his finish.
Fickerson had this to say after the races: “I’m very proud of how the Vaqueros raced today. They truly represented SBCC well. Bennett put himself into a whole new realm of racing and risked a lot to try to qualify for So Cals. While he ultimately fell short, he scored some big PR’s and should be very proud of himself. I know I’m proud of him. Sam got the job done today. With all he has been through over the past 10 days with this knee injury, he battled through some significant confidence issues to make sure he moved on.
“I’m optimistic we can put the knee problem behind us and get Sam back to full strength in two weeks. I’m proud he was able to grit this out and give himself that opportunity. It would have been easy to use it as an excuse.
“Alex finally raced the way he has been capable of all season. He took a chance and remained mentally engaged throughout the race mentally and fought for his placing. With that, he ran nearly a minute faster than he has all season and put himself in a great position to make it to Fresno.”
Michael Jorgenson works in communications/media relations at Santa Barbara City College.