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Cross Country banquet marks the end of the line for three Saints runners

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

On Sunday afternoon inside the St. James Event Center, the cross country team closed the books on its 2020 season.

The season marked the third straight year the boys won Section 2A and the fourth year in a row they won the Big South Conference.

Caleb Rivera was the top point-getter for St. James, with 80 total team points for a Saints team that finished in first place in each race, a combined 34-0.

"The boys were impressive," said head coach Brad Stark. "We don't want this to be something that is around for a year or two then goes down. It's very hard to keep staying good, but that's what we want to do."

Rivera won each of the races, with his top 5K race time of 16:16 coming at the Big South Conference championships.

For Rivera's efforts, he was named to the All-Conference and All-Section teams. Joining Rivera in All-Conference honors was Marco Crispin.

Rivera was also named All-State Academic.

Crispin finished 5th at conference and 6th in the section, giving him All-Section honors as well.

Juan Castaneda, Levi Miest, and Austin Knickrehm were named Big South Honorable Mentions.

Also named to the All-Section team for St. James were Castaneda and Miest.

For the girls, Diana Rodriguez finished just three seconds off the pace of an All-Section placement.

Stark also noted that the boys are going through "a changing of the guard."

The boys have sent numerous runners to the college ranks and now must replace Rivera, Castaneda, and Austin Knickrehm, all of whom were top-seven runners.

But the boys have a good contingency plan with talented freshmen in Miest, Ryan Pierson, Jacob Friesen, and Bennett Flohrs, as well as Crispin, who will be a senior in 2021

Also coming into the fold should be Adrian Pineda, Luis Morales, and Carlos Rodriguez. Eighth graders Brennan Kern and Wyatt Haler should also take strides and push for top eight spots.

The girls side should continue to improve in 2021 after an eighth-place finish at sections.

The program graduates no runners this year, and with only one junior and one sophomore this year, the program has a bright future ahead.

The Saints also had to periodically rely on middle schoolers in varsity meets, including Ailyn Balbuena, who raced in the St. Peter dual meet, as well as the Big South Conference championship and Section 2A meets.

Sophomore Diana Rodriguez was the top runner all year for the lady Saints. Rodriguez is already a three-year letter winner for St. James cross country, and hit the 21:23 mark in the St. James Triangular in September.

Freshmen Katelyn Ojeda-callejas and America Trejo Esqueda showed promise.

Ojeda-callejas' season-high came at the Big South Conference meet this year, with a time of 23:13 and finishing 29th. Her career-best, however, was in 2018 at the Section 2A meet, with a time of 22:14.

Trejo Esqueda had her best race in Butterfield in October, finishing in 23:42.

Fellow freshman Natalie Rodriguez will also be relied on more to drive the Saints ahead in the section, as well as the conference.

Awards:

Letter-winners: Maritza Rodriguez, Diana Rodriguez, Katelyn Ojeda-callejas, America Trejo Esqueda, Natalie Rodriguez, Ailyn Balbuena, Ruby Zamora, Juan Castaneda, Austin Knickrehm, Caleb Rivera, Marco Crispin, Bennett Flohrs, Levi Miest, Ryan Pierson, Adrian Pineda, Carlos Rodriguez, Jacob Friesen

Spotlight on Scholarship: Diana Rodriguez, Juan Castaneda, Austin Knickrehm, Caleb Rivera, Payton Brown, Marco Crispin

Newcomer Award: Christian Pineda

Most Improved Award: America Trejo Esqueda, Levi Mieset

Most Valuable Runner: Diana Rodriguez, Caleb Rivera

Leadership Award: Marco Crispin