A crisp Friday morning was the perfect setting for a cross country race.

Pioneer Valley High School, nestled neatly in the shadows of the Santa Maria foothills, was the site for some more normalcy then.

Runners from Righetti High School traveled across town to face the Panthers in boys and girls cross country races on the Pioneer Valley campus.

The competition marked one week of a problem-free athletics return for Santa Maria Valley schools. All youth and high school athletics had been on hold since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020. 

But area cross country teams began competing on Friday, Feb. 5 with a few scrimmage races at Santa Maria High. Pioneer Valley had run in a "scrimmage" at Righetti last week. Pioneer Valley then agreed to host Righetti on Friday, with PVHS coach Riccardo Magni inviting Righetti coach Megan Cota and her squad to campus, which was was closed to the public as runners started on the track and wound through campus on a 0.92-mile course. A girls race started the festivities at 10 a.m. and the boys varsity followed at 10:30, before a combined JV race. 

Katie Magni, a Pioneer Valley senior and the coach's daughter, had a strong showing over the 2.76-mile race. She led all runners in the girls varsity race with a time of 18 minutes, 30 seconds.

"Obviously, this year wasn't what any of us expected, but just to have the chance to compete and be out here with a team, competing against other schools, it feels great," Katie Magni said Friday morning. "I'm just grateful that our school is so supportive of sports, especially with our athletic director (Anthony Morales) being good about getting us together and making sure we're following the rules so all the sports can continue."

Magni said she's looking forward to competing in track and field later in the spring. Magni has also played soccer at PVHS and is hopeful to see that sport return this school year as well. 

Magni helped the Panthers to a 17-34 win over Righetti.

Stephannie Jimenez finished in 18:40, followed by teammates Makayla Gonzalez and Maritsa Carmona. Peyton Carerra led Righetti with a time of 19:27.7. Emily Carpenter was just behind in 19:28.4, followed by Sierra Daley (19:33) and Maraitzel Moreno (20:00).

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Irma Cortez (20:18), Melissa Marin (20:43) and Janeth Antonio (22:04) finished out the Pioneer Valley runners that finished. Natalie Ingram (21:07) and Nicki Lucero (21:21) also finished for Righetti.

On the boys side, Righetti sophomore Cory Campbell had a strong showing, cruising to a win in 14:27, ahead of Pioneer Valley's top finisher Luis Campos (14:33), who took second. Pioneer Valley's Juan Santiago was third (14:35) and teammate Orlando Marin finished fourth (15:00). Righetti's Aidan McAlister, a senior, was fifth in 15:16, followed by Pioneer Valley's Kevin Beltran (15:24) and Adan Pina (15:41).

Righetti's Armando Cervantes was eighth in 15:52 and teammate Angel Uvalle was ninth in 16:00. Julian Ruiz followed in 10th place for Pioneer Valley in 16:09, with Righetti's Vignesh Neerathalingham taking 11th in 16:13, followed by Ethan Stenhouse (16:18) of Pioneer Valley and Righetti's Eric Angulo (16:38).

Pioneer Valley won the boys race 22-34. 

"Everyone is excited just to do something and not be behind closed doors," Riccardo Magni said in his trademark Long Island accent. "It's the highlight of my day to come out to practice after distance learning every day. The teams are working hard and they're in very good shape."

Cross country is the only high school sport that is going as the area remains in the purple tier of California's reopening guidelines. Girls tennis is slated to start later this month. Area athletic directors and coaches are building complete cross country schedules with league races scheduled in February and March. 

"I'm just glad we're able to provide an opportunity for the kids here, they're all good kids," Riccardo Magni said. "We're all excited, that's why you see so many adult staff members here helping to make sure the kids can run safely."

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