A lot of heat, and a lot of human will, was on display at the Greg DeNike Big Ditch Invitational cross country meet at Talley Fields in Arroyo Grande Saturday.
The meet's name, formerly the Big Ditch Invitational, has been changed in honor of the late Greg DeNike, formerly a hugely successful cross country coach at Arroyo Grande High School, and later a boys basketball coach at Pioneer Valley and Righetti.
The top 10 finishers in each race medaled. Team winners were the Ventura frosh/soph girls with 42 points; the Paso Robles frosh/soph boys with 46 points; the Ventura junior-senior girls with 35 points; and the Ventura junior-senior boys with 45 points.
During the course of the day, more than one runner walked late in a race. But they finished. During the last 200 meters of the Girls Frosh-Soph race, one of the runners stopped and threw up twice. But she finished.
Madeliene Locher of Ventura ran through relatively high humidity to win the Girls Frosh/Soph race going away, in 15 minutes, 19 seconds.
Her time was 14 seconds faster than the winning time in the Girls Junior-Senior race and 44 seconds ahead of runner-up teammate Rita Soriano over the 4K (2.5 mile) course.
Arroyo Grande freshman Arabella Edler finished fourth in the Girls freshman-sophomore race. She said she didn't mind the humidity in her race at all.
"I felt good. The sun wasn't fully out yet," she said.
"The last lap was a little rough, but I felt pretty strong."
By the time the Boys Frosh/Soph race started, the sun was fully out, and the heat was fully on.
Damian Gavilan of Paso Robles won the race comfortably, with his winning margin anyway, in 13:22. Runner-up Juanathan Reyes of Stockdale finished in 13:38.
Sophia Reyes of Ventura took the Girls Junior/Senior race in 15:33. Runner-up Alexandria Cholometes of Stockdale finished in 16:08.
The coaches huddled just before the start of the last race of the day, the Boys Junior/Senior race and, with the temperature climbing past the 100-degree mark just before race time at 11 a.m., they decided to cut the length of the race approximately in half.
Runners ran one loop of the course instead of two. Marcus Mota of Stockdale won in 6:23.99. Arroyo Grande senior Luis Jazo was the runner-up in 6:28.73.
"Honestly, I had mentally prepared myself for a long race," Jazo said afterward.
"I had wanted to go out (for the first mile) in 4:55. I went out in 4:45, too fast than what I'd mentally prepared for. But I thought I made a good mental adjustment on the fly in the race."
Several teams from schools in the Santa Maria and Lompoc Valleys, plus Nipomo, were at the meet.
Orcutt Academy was one of the Santa Maria Valley schools that was there. Orcutt's girls team finished third in the Los Padres League last year and qualified for the CIF Division 5 State Meet.
The Spartans, with four runners, did not have the required five runners to score in either girls race. Coach Frank Mata said Orcutt Academy originally had five runners in the Girls Junior-Senior race, but one dropped out before the race began.
Nonetheless, particularly considering the heat, "I thought we did great," he said.
Talia Mata, the coach's daughter, was the first Orcutt runner home. She medaled with an eighth-place finish.
Elena Estrada led Cabrillo with a 10th-place finish. Andrea Pasillas, in 17th, was the first Pioneer Valley runner home.
Steven De La Cruz, in 13th, was the top Pioneer Valley finisher in the Boys Junior-Senior race. Devin Diaz of Nipomo (15th), Jesus Garcia of Righetti (17th), Tristin Fichner of Cabrillo (18th), Nathan Schatz of Cabrillo (20th), Devin Vauchin of Orcutt Academy (22nd) and Sergio Jaraciarp of Pioneer Valley (25th) all earned top 25 finishes.
The Orcutt Academy girls team's next meet is at the Woodbridge Invitational next Saturday. Mata said he's looking forward to that one.
"It's at night in Orange County, and it'll be cool," he said.