The Calaveras High School boys’ cross country team can finally, at long last, stop running after their goals.
At the beginning of the season, the Calaveras runners had a list of accomplishments they wanted to cross off one-by-one. The first was to win the Mother Lode League championship – check. The second was to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship – check. The final thing the Calaveras runners looked to accomplish was to make a big statement at the CIF State Cross Country Championship.
In the final and biggest race of the year, Calaveras perhaps saved its best for last. As a team, Calaveras placed fourth out of all the division IV teams in California, finishing with a score of 190, which was only behind Foothill Technology (93), Scotts Valley (111) and Sir Francis Drake (150) while competing Saturday in the 33rd annual CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno.
“To be able to compete at the state meet with this team was an amazing opportunity,” Calaveras senior Bennie Hesser said. “I knew we had a shot to make some noise, but a fourth-place finish against some very talented teams feels incredible. We were all running for each other and knowing that we each had each other’s backs, and everyone laid it on the line for the team and it feels great.”
While Calaveras made a statement as a team, the same happened individually. In his last high school race, senior Jacob Christopher placed eighth overall out of 210 runners with his time of 15:35.3. Finishing his high school career as one of the top runners in the state wasn’t something Christopher envisioned when he began running three years ago.
“I never thought I’d even make it to state my sophomore year,” Christopher said. “I kinda just let the flow of things take me.”
Calaveras head coach Doug Avrit has seen the metamorphosis of Christopher from a good runner, to an elite runner. He also saw first-hand how the state meet was too big of a stage for Christopher as a junior. And now, one year removed from a disappointing end to Christopher’s junior year, Avrit could not be more pleased from the race his star senior ran.
“He has come a long way in the past couple of years,” Avrit said. “At the state meet a year ago, he convinced himself he was not a cross country runner, but rather just a track athlete. I told him he was just flat out a good runner and this season he became that. He competed at a very high level and finished with a ferocity that we saw on the track late last season. With his speed, he has become one of the better runners around, and Saturday was just further proof of that.”
In regards to the strategy for his final race, Christopher said, “My strategy was to be patient and strike at the right moment and to dig deep when the pressure gets turned on. I already knew the ins and outs of the course and it felt much easier running it a second time this year. I feel like I can still do better, but I’m happy with my team.”
After Christopher, Calaveras finishers were: Jeremy Milligan (No. 39, 16:13.7); Hesser (No, 61, 16:34.6); Garrett Hesser (No. 79, 16:45.5); Jamie Espirtu (No. 86, 16:50); Nicolas Moore (No. 132, 17:25.6); and Nicholas Saliski (No. 194, 18:53.1).
“This team means a lot to me,” Avrit said. “This team was a team and all that that implies. They ran for each other and just enjoyed being on the team together, and that was very satisfying to watch happen as the season went along.”
One major concern heading into Saturday’s race was the weather and what condition the course would be in. Knowing there was a chance they’d be running in the rain, the runners took advantage of wet weather in Calaveras County to become acclimated to running while soaked. Fortunately for all runners, the rain held off long enough for the race to be ran.
“The weather for our race was actually good racing weather,” Bennie Hesser said. “It was a little cold, but the rain held off for all the races, which was a blessing. The rain beforehand kept the dust down and the trail actually stayed in great condition to run in. I came in a little nervous because it was such a high stakes and competitive meet, but once the gun went off, that went away and I was just racing for my team.”
In the final race of the season, Christopher, Milligan, Bennie Hesser and Garrett Hesser all recorded personal bests in a 5,000-meter race, and as a team, Calaveras had an average time of 16:24.
“I feel that every single one of us pretty much had the best race we could, which is rare that it all happens on the same day,” Bennie Hesser said. We had four personal records out of the top five and each were at least 20 seconds, so you really can’t ask for a better team result. The combination of the section championship and this fourth-place finish made for a great finale to this season.”
With the 2019 season now in the books, there are no more races to run, medals to win and times to beat. For Christopher, all that is left is to reflect and be grateful for the experience he had during his three-year run at Calaveras.
“Running at Calaveras means many things to me,” Christopher said. “It’s family. We run, we cry, we celebrate and we grow together. Without this team and Mr. Avrit, I don’t think I could be who I am today and who I can be in the future.”