Brian Weaver gathered his group of Buchanan High cross country runners and told them the five words that they — and so many high school athletes across the state — have sought to hear.
“We will have a season.”
The team expressed shock and excitement — shock with the abrupt arrival of a season after sitting under stay-at-home order restrictions for nearly two months, and excitement for the opportunity to finally compete against student-athletes from other schools.
“Ever since they’ve been told, their practices have been even better,” Weaver said.
The Bears’ head coach shared the news with his team on Jan. 25, the same day that California governor Gavin Newsom formally announced that regional stay-at-home orders were lifted across the state. This was the biggest obstacle to cross country competition in the CIF Central Section.
The section released its updated calendar on Jan. 19 that stated cross country competition could start as soon as possible, which meant as soon as the San Joaquin Valley exited its stay-at-home order, the mandated 10-day practice period for teams was completed, and county health officials gave the green light.
All qualifications will be met on Feb. 4, the first day of cross country competition when Weaver’s Bears host Clovis East and Clovis North travels to Sanger High for a pair of dual meets.
Just like that, high school sports make their return to Clovis.
“I’d like seven races [but] I’d take one,” Weaver admitted. ‘That’s all we want, we just want an opportunity.”
Clovis East looks for youth to gain experience
The Bears’ first opportunity comes against a Clovis East squad that stacks up younger than head coach Jim Farmer expected heading into the school year. The Timberwolves had six runners opt out of the cross country season to focus on the track & field season that looms in March, leaving Clovis East with one senior.
Clovis East will also miss the talents of their No. 1 girls’ runner, Erika Nyberg. Nyberg finished 2nd to Buchanan’s Corie Smith (now at Arkansas) at the TRAC and Central Section championships, and took 11th at the state meet to cap off her freshman season. The sophomore is dealing with injuries, according to Farmer, and aims to return during track & field season.
The top three for the Clovis East girls now consist of freshman Jazlin Diehl, junior Ariana Womack and sophomore Ayane Isleta, who took 11th at TRAC championships last season with a time of 19:33.
The boys’ top three feature a pair of freshmen: Nash Higby and Carter Spradling, the latter of whom set a course record at Woodward Park while winning the CIAL (junior high) championships in 2019. Junior Isaac Frazier, who moved to Clovis from the state of Washington, rounds out the top runners on the boys’ side for Clovis East.
Buchanan girls return from state title run
Clovis East will run against a Buchanan team that lost its top girl runner (Smith), but returns the nucleus of the 2019 CIF state champion girls’ team.
It starts with the Bears’ top returner, sophomore Sydney Sundgren. Sundgren placed 6th in the state meet last year and impressed Weaver during preseason time trials, running a 2-mile time trial at 10:33 and 1600 (1-mile) at 4:54.
Seniors Gianna Chiramonte and Morgan Hutchinson provide experience and leadership that has been “really important to the program this year” according to Weaver.
Buchanan lost its top runner from the boys’ side (Kelly Brewer) as well, but Fresno Pacific-bound Bo Olsen and Sebastian McGehee-Adams are the Bears’ top two returners. The pair of seniors, along with Brewer, helped Buchanan finish 2nd in the Central Section boys’ standings in 2019 and Weaver has seen improvement in both runners since then.
“I’ve seen [Olsen and McGehee-Adams] mature in their running and handle a little bit of longer miles and run a faster pace,” Weaver said. “We put some new stresses on them and being able to handle the stresses of a different level of training, they’ve really stepped up to that.”
Clovis North boys lose four seniors
2019 was a year to remember for Clovis North boys cross country. The Broncos finished atop the TRAC and Central Section, and placed 6th at the state meet. Led by senior Isaiah Galindo — who finished 2nd individually at the state meet and signed with UC Davis — Clovis North put together its best boys team finish at a state meet in program history.
The top four runners from last year’s team graduated, leaving it to junior team captain Spencer Mueller to lead Clovis North in 2021. Mueller was lauded by Broncos head coach Jason Lienau for his leadership, particularly in organizing offseason workouts for the team.
“Really, our entire varsity guys group has been very diligent,” Lienau said. “I couldn’t ask more from a group of kids, in these circumstances, to stay as positive and consistent and diligent as they have been.”
On the girls’ side, junior Miliana Perez is the top returner, after placing 5th at Central Section championships and 7th at the CIF state meet a year ago. Ashlyn Leath, who finished 16th at the Section meet, has “improved dramatically” according to Lienau, as well as Gianna Bomarito.
“[The season will be a success] if we get through it knowing we are better than we were a year ago,” Lienau said.
Clovis High running for the future
With only two seniors on the team, Clovis High cross country will be a youthful bunch on the course this season.
“We’re a very young team…we feel like we have a bright future ahead of us at Clovis High, especially because our middle school coaches have done a great job developing and getting kids to come out,” head coach Eloy Quintana said.
The latest to come out of Clark Intermediate is a pair of freshman girls, Jaslin Arana and Madison Soliz, who have performed “on a consistent basis” at practice, according to Quintana. They will join the girls’ No.1 runner, sophomore Emma Ruvalcaba, who took 16th at TRAC championships last season.
“[Arana and Soliz] have been absolutely phenomenal this whole entire time, coming out with positive attitudes and training hard,” Quntana said.
Sophomore Christopher Caudillo leads the Clovis High boys’ side after ending his freshman season with a 12th place finish at Central Section championships. Caudillo was clocked at an offseason time trial running a 9:35 two-mile race. Racing with Caudillo is the team’s No. 2 boys’ runner, Joaquin McGee. Quintana points to McGee as a team leader who has taken the younger teammates under his wing during the offseason.
Clovis West strong together as a unit
Clovis High will race against Clovis West to open their season Saturday morning, and when the Cougars meet the Golden Eagles, they’ll meet a program that does not have one stand-alone athlete.
Instead, head coach Rich Parris insists it’s his entire team that stepped up.
“I think our program is much improved as a whole,” Parris said. “I can’t identify one athlete over another, but I can tell you my whole entire team and pods are doing an outstanding job.”
Parris, who enters his 4th year coaching at Clovis West and 20th overall in cross country, said his Golden Eagles would have a successful 2021 season “if we remind ourselves it’s a team over individuals.”
The Clovis West boys finished 2nd in the TRAC and 3rd in the Central Section last season, while the girls placed 3rd in league and 5th at the section meet. The girls’ side, who lost two seniors from a year ago, will feature four juniors and two freshmen in their top 7.
The first races are up
Buchanan High and Clovis East will run the first TRAC dual cross country meet of the season on Feb. 4, with the Timberwolves’ boys and girls arriving in two separate, socially-distanced buses. Both teams are required to wear masks until reaching the starting line, where they are allowed to remove their masks when the race starts.
The girls are expected to run at 3:00 p.m at Buchanan High, with the boys to follow at 3:30 p.m.
Clovis North will start its season on Feb. 4 as well, traveling to Sanger to run against the Sanger High Apaches. Girls will start at 3:30 p.m, with boys to follow at 4:00 p.m
Clovis High will host a dual meet against Clovis West on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 6 to begin both schools’ seasons. Girls will run at 9:00 a.m, with boys running at 9:30 a.m.