VHS junior 11th in nation at Eastbay XC Championships

Vandegrift junior Kevin Sanchez giving it all that he’s got in the Eastbay Cross Country Championship race. RAYMOND TRAN

By TAYLOR CHRONERT, Vandegrift Voice 

Vandegrift junior cross country runner Kevin Sanchez traveled to San Diego to compete against 40 other male qualifiers in the cross country Eastbay Cross Country Championships. Sanchez finished his race with a time of 15:30 and placed 11th in the nation in the 42nd annual national finals event.

“It was a really fun time and a really good race,” Sanchez said. “The course however, was brutal: it was very hilly. And of course that huge hill at about the mile [was] very very crazy but honestly it was a very good race. It couldn’t have ended any better.”

Before racing at Eastbay, Sanchez competed in the Eastbay Cross Country South race where he placed sixth and qualified to compete in the national race. 

“Crossing the line, knowing I just qualified for the national meet felt so unreal, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to San Diego. I’m going to this place that I’ve been working towards for a year,’” Sanchez said. “So it was really cool.”

Sanchez said that after his race in San Diego, he was not feeling the best.

“I was just gone; I don’t know if I lost consciousness or something, I don’t know,” Sanchez said. “But honestly after I regained everything and I could think again, I was just like, ‘I got eleventh, I got All American.’” 

Currently, Sanchez is the first boy not only on the cross country team, but in Vandegrift history, to compete at the Eastbay South Championship meet.

“It’s honestly really cool just being there and being able to represent something bigger than myself,” Sanchez said. “The state, the school and well the nation, and it’s just a really cool experience.” 

Sanchez is also the first ever Vandegrift runner to win state on the boys team.

“That was insane, that was surreal, and especially having the boys with me,” Sanchez said. “Just racing with them was such an honor; it was such a fun time, and we are all super proud of  each other. It was just an honor to represent.”

Leading up to the race, Sanchez spent a lot of time training and preparing for his race. He says that his training changed a little from his normal routine but not that much.

“We made a few adjustments with the amount of workouts I was doing leading up to nationals just because I’ve been having a few issues ever since state,” Sanchez said. “Otherwise, training was pretty normal: just maybe did three workouts a week with a time trial the week before.”

When Sanchez placed eleventh at the nationals meet, he also earned the title of being Third Team All American.

“I set out to become All American and it’s honestly just really cool,” Sanchez said. “ I’m really happy and really proud of how that ended up going, just because I never really thought I would get to that point in my running career, and I still have a year to go in my high school career.” 

With placing well and dropping times at every meet he goes to, Sanchez says that what makes him motivated to push himself at every meet is his friends, teammates and his family.

“I’m there hoping to represent and motivate more people as well,” Sanchez said. “I know that being the top runner in the team, I’m one of the strongest figures that has to set an example and hope that the team kinda follows. I think I just strive to do that part the best that I can.”

With his commitment and dedication to the sport, Sanchez was also voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates and coaches, and was awarded the honor at the cross country banquet on December 8.

“It was just an honor,” Sanchez said. “And it’s again like a symbol that I stand in front of that team and I hope that I can lead them to be the best versions of themselves.” 

With track season right around the corner, Sanchez said that his goal is to break nine minutes in the two mile race and to also be looking at the recruitment process for the 2023 class. 

“I want to get myself a bit more on college radars,” Sanchez said. “[I’ve been] talking to a few, so I’m just trying to make my way to the front of the 2023 recruiting class. Some of the schools I’m talking to  are Oklahoma State, UNC Chapel Hill, I have a little bit of contact with UT Austin, Texas A&M–those are pretty much the main ones. I would also like to keep up with my momentum from cross country season.”

42nd Eastbay Cross Country Championships

Race conditions at Morley Field, Balboa Park in San Diego were ideal with mostly firm terrain, sunshine and temperatures reaching 62 degrees.  

In the boys’ race, junior Kole Mathison (Carmel, Ind.) controlled the early pace leading what would become a six-runner breakaway pack after the first mile (4:43). The group, made up of senior Gavin Sherry (West Hartford, Conn.), junior Tyrone Gorze (Central Point, Ore.), Hough, Mathison, senior Zane Bergen (Longmont, Colo.) and senior Kenan Pala (San Diego, Calif.), would go on to define the second half of the 5K race as they would all finish in the top six. The decisive move to the tape was made by Hough who slingshot past Pala and Sherry on the steep downhill with 500 meters to go. From there, the Michigan State recruit continued his strong finishing kick, rewarding him with the ECCC national championship title.  

With Hough’s relatively comfortable lead, the ECCC final turned into a race for second where local fan favorite Pala (15:14.8) pulled ahead and held off Sherry (15:17.3). Bergen finished fourth (15:20.2), Mathison came in in fifth (15:22.3) and Gorze captured sixth place (15:26.4).