The Wasco High School varsity and junior varsity cross country teams are poised for another successful season. With practice underway, they are working hard to win the South Sequoia League and make it into the Valley Championship.
Omar Garcia is one of three head coaches, along with Rafael Gonzalez and Leo Sanchez. He has coached both the varsity and junior varsity teams since 2015.
"We're building," Garcia siad. "The boys are getting stronger every year, as more and more boys come out. Our girl's program has been staying consistent and competing at a high level."
The girls have won the SSL title five times since 2016. The boys have won it twice, in 2016 and 2017.
He's looking to take home the titles again.
"With both programs, I want to keep grounded and remain close as a family. Everything else will follow."
Regarding the Valley Championship, he said, "With the girls, the goal is to have the opportunity to get there and demonstrate their ability to perform well and be competitive."
"So far, the young ladies have done an excellent job in making that goal a reality in that they are always prepared and strong."
Of the boys, he said they have done amazingly well.
"We went from being not ranked in the top 10 to now being ranked 10th and 12th going into Valley. They have been progressing and are a very coachable set of kids."
Garcia said there is a special dynamic among the teams.
"That is what I want them to take away from it. I don't want them to see each other as competitors but instead more like a family, and that makes for a better team."
The season runs from June to November, and their first race is on Friday, Aug. 25, in Fresno for the Highlander Invitational.
They practice Monday through Friday, where they run, do workouts, lift weights and focus on strength and conditioning, with some yoga and flexibility exercises.
Garcia said the runners develop self-confidence and leadership while working on their mental well-being and coming together as a team. He says they are are very tenacious, goal-orientated, self-driven and have clear visions of what success means to them as a team.
Garcia believes cross country is the most grueling and unforgiving sport.
"It's not easy to feel loved doing this because most of the time, no one sees what the kids are going through. The community will only see if they won or lost, but these kids do a lot of hard work behind the scenes."
He said every group is unique.
"I can tell you, as a coach, I've had groups run over 900 miles and others over 600 miles in a season. But for me, I want quality over quantity, so the coaches and I will design a workout that suits our current teams."
The athletes are creating special memories.
"By just being there for each other and supporting each other. I like to take them to races we were never allowed before."
"We go to Morro Bay. Some have never seen the beach, so we take them to the beach, and we'll go to Mt. San Antonio College in Los Angeles, one of the biggest cross country races where recruiters are there to look at the kids run."
Priscella Raya, a senior on the varsity team, said of Garcia, "He is an incredible coach. One of the best I've ever had. He knows how to push us in the right direction and helps us love the sport even more."
She said what she enjoys most is that it makes her feel better knowing she can go out there and do something that is very difficult for most people.
Giselle Acevedo is a junior on the varsity team and hopes to make it to Valley.
"If we continue to put our passion into it, we have a great shot at it."
She said she has learned a lot about herself, "I can go beyond the limits someone places on me and become good at something I never thought I could do."
Nicholas Contreras is a junior on the varsity team.
He said pushing himself and having his team around him to help take him to greater heights is the best part of the sport.
He hopes to break his records this season, "And do much better than my previous season. It's always about improving myself and helping others improve themselves."
Garcia said they all live by their motto.
"Run as one, work as a team and finish as a family."