Gauchos cross country team returns to full strength

Ulysses Orozco (center) runs his way to second place at the Golden West Invitational. (Saddleback Cross-Country Facebook)

Ulysses Orozco (center, yellow) runs his way to second place at the Golden West Invitational. (Saddleback Cross-Country Facebook)

The Saddleback men’s and women’s cross-country teams are off and running and head coach Matt Sherman is confident both teams will place atop the elite throughout the season. On Thursday the team competed at the Golden West Invitational in Huntington Beach.

Prior to the Golden West Invitational the cross-country team was involved in an automobile accident on Aug. 20, 2015. The accident injured 21 athletes; all ten female athletes were injured, and 11 males.

The accident had an unintended effect on the entire cross-country team. It united them even closer than before, viewing the accident as an obstacle to overcome.

“All the men and women have come back with one goal in mind, to not let this [the accident] ruin the rest of our season,” Sherman said.

The Golden West Invitational marked the first time this season both teams had all athletes competing.

“We had full squads, both at full strength,” Sherman said.

The men finished third and the women placed fifth. The men finished seven points out of first place and one point out of second.

Men’s sophomore standout Ulysses Orozco, currently ranked fourth in the state individually, finished second at the Invitational.

“He’s something special and an extremely hard worker,” said Sherman.

Freshman twins Wyndal and Ronnen Skarsten both had impressive top ten finishes. Other Gaucho runners finishing in the top 30 included Miles Brubacher and Brian Aguirre.

The invitational was the first race of the season for several female athletes, as they received the initial impact of the accident.

“Our first race for the women was at the Southern Cal Preview in San Diego, we had four women race there, the other women hadn’t been cleared to compete,” Sherman said. “This was the first race of the season for Sara Fleming, Madelyn Galvez, Angle Vallier.”

The top women’s finisher and last year’s conference champion, sophomore Sara Fleming, placed ninth. Other Gaucho top fifty finishers included Carolina Dagarin, Madelyn Galvez and Angel Vallier. A good start considering only having a week and a half of training to prepare since being cleared to compete.

“I’m really pleased with how they finished,” said Sherman.

Sara Fleming was in the second position with one mile to go. With little time to prepare, her conditioning was not where she knows it will be with added practice and preparation.

“She was very positive with the outcome of it and when her conditioning gets there she put herself in a better position for a strong finish,” Sherman said.

Great leadership from the sophomore class has given the team a positive mental attitude and will look to improve their times as they continue to recover from the August accident.

The next event for the Gauchos is the Burbaker Invitational at Irvine Park on Oct. 9 in Irvine.