Concluding her first-ever athletic venture, D’Vondra Garcia, right, receives her first athletic letter and accompanying sport-specific pin from head coach Daniel Holley during last year’s end-of-season awards banquet inside IHS Auditorium. A preseason surgery this year will likely keep the eager junior out of the 2020 cross-country season’s early goings.
Seen running out in Colorado Springs during the 2019 CHSAA State Cross-Country Championships’ Class 2A Girls’ grand finale, now-senior Charlize Valdez should be one of the Lady Bobcats’ top returnees in 2020.
Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum
Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum
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IHS harriers get green light from CHSAA

Cross-country a ‘go,’ boys now in tow

With just one final right-hand turn approaching, D’Vondra Garcia’s stride lengthened and – most importantly – smile widened as she neared the end of Dolores High’s inaugural Boggy Draw Bear Chase last August.

“I didn’t want to finish; I’d wanted to stop,” she recalled Monday evening, Aug. 10, noting the jaunt was her very first athletic foray. “But I was like, ‘If I stop, I’m not going to get anywhere.’ You know? So I just pushed myself.”

“I’d never done sports before, never ran, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she continued. “It was hard, and I was excited to see the finish line – then see that I’d finished!”

“Her first attempt at cross-country, and she caught on. She fell in love with it,” Ignacio head coach Daniel Holley had said, at the Lady Bobcats’ end-of-season banquet while presenting Garcia with her initial athletic letter and XC-specific pin.

“It’s a huge accomplishment, something that she put a lot of time and effort into,” he stated. “D’Vondra came in, I think … after her first race, and just hung her head like, ‘Coach, I just don’t know.’ And by the end of season – before she got injured – she had taken about ten minutes off that time for a PR of 30 minutes, 58 seconds for a 5K.”

Unluckily set to begin the coronavirus-altered 2020 season recovering from an expected 8/12 surgery on her left foot, the now-junior popularly dubbed ‘Diggy’ may not be available when IHS’ harriers take the starter’s horn at the upcoming BDBC the evening of Aug. 21.

“Dolores wasn’t really a hard course … . If I went back I feel like I could do a lot better,” she said of the forested route. “And I was supposed to have surgery a while ago, but because of COVID it got pushed back.”

And if there’s one thing cross-country has taught Garcia, it’s to remain goal-oriented – particularly now with an expected influx of teammates reportedly ready for the campaign’s first practice.

“Not going to sugar-coat it: It’s not easy at all, “ she said. “But … keep reaching for goals you want; last year Holley had us run three miles without trying to stop, and I was surprised I actually did it! If you set your mind to it, you can do it.”

“Our team has really grown this year,” Holley said, referring to the girls’ squad, expected to feature senior Charlize Valdez, a first-time Class 2A State Championships qualifier last fall, and junior Avaleena Nanaeto, already a two-time State veteran. “I will be adding about five freshmen, along with some upperclassman newcomers.”

“We will also be piloting a men’s team this year!”

You read correctly, fans: after a decades-long absence, Ignacio Boys’ Cross-Country is returning.

Names and further details were unavailable at press time, but the skipper hinted that in the wake of successes enjoyed by since-graduated IHS talents Elco Garcia, Jr., and Jonas Nanaeto – the duo which spent the past couple years running for, and qualifying for State in 3A with Bayfield – as well as the CHSAA-mandated postponement of the other fall sports fielded at IHS (football, volleyball) the timing probably couldn’t be better for a rebirth.

“I’ve been pitching the idea to other fall-sport athletes that running cross-country is one of the best ways to get in shape for their respective sports,” said Holley. “Also, a varsity meet will only allow six runners per gender per team – I think this will lead to some fast times and competition within teams.”

“I think we will see ‘iron sharpens iron’ happen right before our eyes.”

“We can have … the boys’ team push the girls, and the girls’ team can push the boys – we can just all be there and support each other,” agreed Garcia. “I think it’ll be a lot more fun with more people instead of just three of us, you know? We can interact more.”

Or, in the immediate future, at least much as CHSAA’s pandemic-prevention protocols will permit.

“CHSAA has given all … coaches some parameters to practice within,” explained Holley. “A few examples are keeping athletes apart from each other – no physical contact – and separate water bottles. I think you’ll see the biggest change in the meets with the finish line. It is my understanding that the finish line will be separated by school and runners will run to their school’s finish line instead of one chute.”

Other notable changes the Association approved included: Reducing a school’s maximum number of regular-season meets entered from 11 to seven; allowing no more than 50 runners per gender at regular-season meets, and starting them in waves numbering no more than 25; and allowing no junior-varsity or ‘open’ entrants to compete in varsity races (schools can, however, host separately a JV or open meet).

In 2A varsity competition, each team can enter a maximum of six runners for score-4 purposes, though in the postseason only five entrants will be permitted. 75 athletes per gender will be allowed to run at each regional, with 100 athletes per gender, per classification, earning the right to run at State.

Modified procedural
quirks aside, it’s pretty safe to assume that Ignacio Cross-Country will be proud to simply carry the school’s proverbial ‘banner’ into the unusual 2020-21 athletic year, with other team sports presently unable to do so.

“You know, most of the time it’s football,” Garcia conceded. “That’ll be really cool that we get to represent.”

“I was relieved when I heard we’d be able to have a season!” exclaimed Holley. “I’m aware that returning to school will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen so I’m happy to have that cross-country ‘piece’ as something familiar to work with.”

While Ignacio’s 2020 schedule was still being finalized as of press time, Holley did mention varsity races at the Bear Chase are set to begin at 5 p.m.

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