Fri Oct 25th, 2019
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2019 CHSAA State Championships, 3A-Region I Championships, Alex Baca, El Jebel, Elco Garcia Jr., Eric Wolff Invitational, Jonas Nanaeto, Norris-Penrose Event Center, Wyatt Mortenson, Zeb Shields
Garcia, Nanaeto contenders for 3A Boys’ crown
Translated from Arabic, ‘El Jebel’ means ‘the mountain.’
And if Elco Garcia, Jr., nearly bagged a personal ‘peak’ in a Colorado town of the same name, one can bet he’s ready and eager to make the necessary push to end his prep-level cross-country career summiting the Class 3A boys’ podium at the 2019 CHSAA State Championships following a 1:40 p.m. start this Saturday, Oct. 26.
“It’s my last meet and I’m going to give it my all,” he said earlier in the week. “I’m very excited; I’ve been training, you know, for so long for this.”
Having placed 94th overall (in 18 minutes, 30.8 seconds) on the Norris-Penrose Event Center course as a junior last fall, the Ignacio senior, who runs for nearby Bayfield, clinched a return to the Colorado Springs grand finale with an amazing second-place showing at the 3A-Region I Championships, while helping the Wolverines amass a second-place 63 points and earn one of the Oct. 18 meet’s four automatic team transfers.
Gunnison junior Alex Baca took the title in a blazing 16:12.4 and helped the Cowboys rank first overall with a meet-low 53 points, but Garcia cruised across the finish line in a season-best 16:31.4 – beating third-place Wyatt Mortenson, a junior at Craig-based Moffat County (third place, 70 points), by a comfortable 9.3 ticks.
Piling up 104 points, Pagosa Springs snatched up the last at-large State berth.
“The whole race … us three were just going at it!” recalled Garcia. “Until the second mile – that’s when Alex went off and it was me and the other boy competing, and then I went off next. I felt really great during the race.”
“I was mentally prepared for this race; I knew I had to stick with the top pack as long as I could, and that’s what I did.”
And on the Crown Mountain Park route in El Jebel – an Eagle County community roughly three miles northwest of Basalt – his closest BHS teammates did incredibly likewise.
Junior Zeb Shields crossed fourth in 16:56.5, with IHS senior ‘WolverCat’ Jonas Nanaeto then earning fifth in 17:19.2 – just ahead of GHS junior Brennan Stice (17:22.7). Bayfield’s Rylan Ross (18:43.8) and Royce Hinojosa (19:04.7) later placed 23rd and 32nd, respectively, to reserve for head coach Josh Walton’s crew a spot at the State starting line.
“In each of the last few years, we’ve taken fifth at regionals and just missed out as a team,” said the skipper. “For this group to break through in tough conditions, I couldn’t be happier. Two years ago they missed out by six points, and last year it was 13. They laid it all out there on the course.”
“It was exciting going to regionals this year,” said Nanaeto, who placed 42nd in his 2018 State debut with a 17:42.7. “The weather was not fun – it was cold and raining – but (the race) was a lot more exciting than previous races.”
“We mostly stayed on the bus,” Garcia said with a laugh. “Just right before the race, we then got out, warmed up and were ready to go, you know? It was an awesome race … an awesome course too; there was lots of terrain.”
“Monte Vista kind of prepared us,” he noted, referring to the frigid, Sargent-hosted Oct. 11 Eric Wolff Invitational – the last regular-season stop on BHS’ schedule – contested at the Monte Vista Golf Course where he placed third (in 17:26.2) and Nanaeto tenth (18:39.6), “because regionals was even colder, it felt like.”
Both harriers noted satisfaction with having earned a second trip to State, but each also indicated a desire for great improvement upon last season’s efforts based on their advanced development in the long-distance sport.
“The fact that I’m running for Bayfield but also representing Ignacio … makes me feel happier,” Nanaeto said. “I hope to do better than I did last year; that’s basically about it!”
“Last year it was just me and Jonas, but this year we get to compete as a team,” said Garcia. “And I feel … .not necessarily more’s at stake, but you want to push yourself more when you’re running with your team.”
“It’s interesting, honestly,” he continued. “It’s very competitive in other sports between Ignacio and Bayfield – especially basketball – but this is a different ‘playing field.’ I love the environment, and I’m glad that I’m going to be representing not only Bayfield but Ignacio too.”
After he showed his speed at CMP, Garcia’s transport had to display plenty in its own right; Ignacio High School’s Homecoming Royalty ceremony later that night needed a monarch.
“It was snowing when we left, so we had to hurry!” recalled Garcia. “But we made it in time, and Homecoming was a lot of fun. The football game (Monte Vista-at-IHS) was cold, but I got King which was nice. And taking second (at 3A-Region I) as a team…it was an awesome day!”