Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the San Lorenzo Valley High cross country team was routinely overwhelmed with the number of runners that sought to compete for the Cougars.
Now the school is struggling to bring in coaches to lead the program.
“Covid just knocked the snot out of everybody,” SLV coach Bill Johnson said. “This last track season it was like someone dropped the bomb on us. We had kids with Covid on the day of the meet.”
Johnson said they’ve been trying to pick themselves up off the mat and he cares a lot about the tradition at SLV. Part of that is bringing the numbers up.
“Hopefully we’ll get it going again,” he said.
Former coach Rob Collins was with the program from 1998-2016, leading the Cougars to 12 Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League team championships.
SLV won 12 Central Coast Section regional team championships and produced 22 individual regional champions. They also won five CIF State Championships as a team and they were runner-up three times in the state finals.
Collins produced six individual state champions, a Nike indoor mile national champion and a 1,500 meter Junior National Champion.
Collins will be present at the SCCAL Cross Country Championships on Nov. 3, just two days before he gets inducted into SLV’s Hall of Fame.
The boys team will have 20 to 24 runners that will be competitive, but Johnson said they might have some trouble facing some of the stronger teams such as Aptos, Santa Cruz and defending SCCAL champion Scotts Valley.
Grant Davis, a sophomore, is a co-captain and he’s become a leader as one of the young lowerclassmen.
“We have a lot of new guys and a lot of them have never ran before but it’s really good to see the way that they’ve improved, and the enjoyment and dedication that they’re putting into it and getting from the sport.”
Josh Gabrielson, a junior, placed second in the 100 meter hurdles in last year’s SCCAL Track and Field Championships.
Cian Ryan, a sophomore, is an exceptional mountain bike rider and Johnson said he’s been doing well in practice.
“They’re all working out really hard and I really think they have some talent as a group, we’ll see,” Johnson said.
The girls’ team is just eight runners deep which includes co-captains junior Haven Finley, and seniors Colleen Murata and Madeline Davis.
Ruby Evans, a sophomore, has also been improving throughout the season.
“They’re all doing fine,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that Murata is a little more on the quiet side and to herself, yet, she’s a very hard worker.
“She’s a lead by example,” Johnson said.
Finley is struggling with a minor leg injury but is hoping to be back to nearly full strength. She’s used everything from tape to compression socks but nothing has worked.
“I’m trying to get back in the rhythm of things,” she said. “It’s a little hard seeing that it is pretty painful to run, but I’m still trying to be as present as I can on the team and racing as well as I can.”
Finley qualified for the CIF State Cross Country Championships last year and Murata barely missed the cut, finishing right behind her teammate.
Finley said she believes they’re a strong unit despite having the smaller numbers compared to other schools in the area.
“We do have very strong runners on our team and we’re all really close together,” she said. “I know that a lot of the other teams, they do have a lot in numbers but I just think our team has a lot of hope.”
The Cougars will have to challenge Scotts Valley, which won both the boys and girls SCCAL team titles. The Falcons also have the returning girls’ individual champion in Ashlyn Boothby.
“Our girls have improved so much over this summer and over the years that they’ve been training here,” Finley said.
The Cougars will compete in the Pacific Grove Invitational on Oct. 8, followed by two more SCCAL meets against Soquel High (Oct. 13) and Santa Cruz (Oct. 20).
SLV will pay tribute once again to Cash Ebright on the final meet of the season.
Ebright was a former standout runner who last year died in a swimming accident in the North Coast waters off the shore of Laguna Creek Beach.
The students will wear a red head in honor of Ebright, who loved to run with a headband.
“We can’t forget about Cash,” Johnson said.