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Garcia holds off VanDeberg for Gila Valley title
Cibola senior Jose Garcia and Gila Ridge junior Jonathan VanDeberg were neck-and-neck near the two-mile mark at the Gila Valley Championship Meet Saturday afternoon at Foothills Golf Course.
With a mile left on Gila Ridge's home course — which Garcia had never raced before — the senior from Cibola kicked it into another gear, running into the unknown final third of the race.
By the time the two runners were on the home stretch, Garcia had built a big enough lead and cruised to a first-place finish in 17 minutes, 7 seconds.
“I just took off because we were pretty close,” said Garcia, who had been battling a slight tear in his right patella tendon all season. “I was feeling pretty strong but I didn't know the course. I didn't know when to kick. Probably a little bit sooner would have been better.”
Cibola (25 points) finished first as a team, while Kofa (64) took second, Gila Ridge (73) placed third and Lake Havasu (78) finished fourth.
VanDeberg came across the line at 17:23 for second place.
“He just left me. I didn't have enough in the last mile,” the Gila Ridge junior said. “I felt like I ran a good race. All my miles were under pace.”
The Raiders were without their star runner Bernie Montoya. The senior, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation according to MileSplit.com, was at the University of Texas on a college recruiting trip — which meant Garcia had to be Cibola's top runner.
“It's a little pressure, but I just have to run like if Bernie was here,” Garcia said.
Cibola coach Kris Norton praised Garcia for pushing through the final mile of the race on a course he had never run before.
“It's hard to dig deep when you don't know how much farther you have left and you're kind of running with your brain and you're out there thinking a little too much,” Norton said.
Cibola junior Keanu Nakasawa managed to sneak in for a third-place finish (17:42) just before junior teammate Christian Alva crossed (17:43) for fourth place. Kofa's Robert Salazar took fifth with a time of 18:11, Yuma High's Filomeno Munoz (18:23) placed sixth and Kofa's J.P. Figueroa (18:24) finished seventh.
Perhaps the most exciting finish of the race came when Cibola's Josh Garren and Jesus Chavez and Lake Havasu's Christian Rodriguez all hurried toward the finish line. Garren managed to have the best final boost for eighth place, followed by Chavez and Rodriguez. All three runners finished with a time of 18:28.
Cibola and Kofa head to the Division I Section I meet on Friday, while Gila Ridge and Yuma High both head to the Division II Section I meet on Saturday.
While the Raiders' sights are set at the section and state meets, Norton was happy Garcia and Cibola came away with first-place finishes.
“I wanted a solid effort and you want to place well against your local competition and they did what we were hoping to do.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson