For just the third time in school history the Hartnell College Panthers repeated as the Northern California cross country team champions. Top ranked all season, the Panthers had the luxury of competing for the title on their home course at Toro Park where they had been victorious on October 6 at the Norcal Preview as well. Hartnell College won three consecutive team titles in 1995-1997 and 2005 and 2006 and looked to extend their winning streak from 2016 one more year. With the individual championship going to Harntell's Ricky Esqueda and three additional men in the top 11, this year's squad remained unbeaten against Northern California competition as they head into the CCCAA State Championship in two weeks.
Hartnell freshman Ricky Esqueda spent his first three years after graduating from San Benito High School attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In those three years, running was tugging at his heart and through a series of events, Esqueda found himself back in Hollister and enrolling at Hartnell College. His first season showed the typical learning curve of a college freshman runner as he navigated through the fields of each race slowly seeing he was capable of not just placing high but winning races. Esqueda stepped up for the Panthers in the second half of the season when teammate Patrick Olson went down for four weeks with injury. In that time, Esqueda won the Norcal Preview Meet, Coast Conference title, and was the highest placing Panther at the historic Mt. SAC Invitational. At the Northern California Championship Friday, he made the same move just before the 2 mile mark that helped him win the Coast Conference title the week before. Esqueda ran the second half of the race solo and won by 20 seconds in 20:15. The time bettered Hartnell College state champion Diego Leon's mark at Toro Park by 1 second and moved Esqueda to #2 all-time behind CCCAA State Champion Oscar Uribe's Norcal winning time of 20:09 set in 2005. Following Esqueda was teammate Sergio Coronel who has had a dream sophomore season for the Panthers. Coronel placed just 21st at the Coast Conference Championship last fall and improved this year to conference runner-up to Esqueda and placed fifth overall Friday. His time of 20:46 makes Coronel the ninth best performer at Toro Park in Hartnell history. Patrick Olson, who had missed almost three weeks of running, returned to action in hopes of testing his fitness and getting ready for the state championship in two weeks. Olson would placed eighth in his return in 20:55 to earn All-Northern CA honors. Following him in eleventh was Christian Aldape in 20:58 to earn his first all region honors. Aldape has enjoyed four consecutive strong races heading into the final competition of the cross country season. Sophomore Jaime Garcia completed the team title with a nineteenth place finish in 21:25 to move on to the all-time list. Freshman Luis Perez (21:37) improved on his Toro Park personal best to place 22nd and will be one of the top returnees in 2018 followed by sophomore Jonathan Saldana (21:46) in 26th. The Panthers scored 44 points to second place Las Positas College with 78 points. American River College duplicated their third place performance from last year's championship.
Dyestatcal Runnerspace Men's Team Interview
The Panther will head into the 2017 CCCAA State Cross Country Championship ranked fourth in the state and looking to improve on the fifth place team finish the team has earned the last two years. The Panthers also have a streak of five consecutive years with a Top 14 All American individual finish. The men's championship 4 mile race will take place at 11:00am at Woodward Park in Fresno, CA.