Ben Saldana did not win the race but played a vital role during the Central Valley High School varsity boys cross country team's 24-35 Western Athletic Conference dual-meet win over crosstown-rival Ceres High on Wednesday at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
Competing for the first time this season, Ben finished in second place. The senior completed the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes, 35 seconds.
"I was excited and a little nervous because I didn't compete all year because I got one bad grade at the end of last school year," Saldana said.
Ben's return to the Hawks' lineup could not have come at a better time.
"It (Saldana's presence) changes our whole team dynamic," Central Valley head coach Mike Reynolds said. "It gives everybody else more of a drive. Without Ben, it could have gone either way."
Hawk teammates Carlos Murillo (20:02), Joaquin Garcia (20:20), Favian Castellanos (20:46) and Inayat Sahota (21:04) placed third, fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, to help secure the victory.
Ceres High senior Judas Chavarin (first, 18:29) bested all runners.
Chavarin has never lost to Saldana.
Judas pulled away from Ben during the last 100 yards this past week.
"I was right there with him," Saldana said. "He outkicked me at the end. I got tired. I really couldn't push myself. It's my first race back."
"He pushed me at the beginning," Chavarin said. "When I got next to him, he was breathing hard. I saved energy until the end. I started speeding up a little earlier because I got scared. I didn't know if he'd outkick me."
"I knew it was going to be a dogfight between Ben and Judas," Reynolds said. "He (Saldana) ran really well."
Bulldog teammates Edgar Torres (20:11), Manuel Baez (21:03), Manpreet Dhami (21:55) and Josh Moita (22:03) took fourth, seventh, 11th and 12th, respectively.
Central Valley (3-3) finished fourth overall in the WAC dual-meet standings.
Ceres High (2-3) placed fifth.
"It's different," Chavarin said while talking about the crosstown showdown. "There's more pressure because it's Ceres High versus Central Valley. I try to do my best and push even harder. We're rival schools. You got to do well."