Gabriella Romero, Melina Chavez and Kendra Melching. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Gabriella Romero, Melina Chavez and Kendra Melching. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Head coach Ralph Chavez has reason to be optimistic about Hollister High School’s girls cross country team scoring back-to-back Pacific Coast Athletic League championships: last year’s team is returning with the loss of only one runner, a graduating senior.

“Everything is going great,” Chavez said. “We are picking up where we left off last season, and the girls are looking very strong. Last year they were in the toughest division in PCAL and won it, so it is up to them this year to defend it.”

Chavez said that considering the work they put in last year, he had expected the girls to take the title.

“They were a good group of runners who had a solid foundation,” he said. “During COVID, they were at the limited practices that we could do, and they were running on their own. And when the meets started last year, they were ready to go.”

It will not be as easy for the girls this year, though. According to Chavez, the competition will be tighter.

“We are going to be going up against Carmel, who just moved into our division,” he said. “They are a tough team and were the champions of the Mission League last year. They sent some girls to the state championships, and their whole team is coming back this year, too.”

One thing that impresses Chavez about the girls team is the work ethic they bring daily.

“They show up for practice and never make excuses for the kinds of workouts we will be doing,” he said. “They run together. What I mean by that is that they are in a tight network. They work together, they laugh together, and they lean on each other when they need support. It is not just running, but everything else too. What that does is make them a better core group when they are out there training, because they are not just out there for themselves.”

Chavez identified three returning runners who will be leading the team this year.

“Kendra Melching is a junior and our No. 1 runner,” he said. “She finished the highest in league finals last year. She is a gifted runner and comes in and puts the work in to maintain that.” Melching, 16, has been running since the sixth grade, starting the sport as a form of conditioning for soccer. This year, she is looking to improve her results.

“I was not super happy with my times last year,” she said. “But I have been following the training program that the coach set up for us, which has been generally very good. And I ran a lot during the summer, which is the personal dedication part. It takes a certain personality to run cross country and, for me, going out for a run is just the best thing.” 

Senior Melina Chavez, 17, is the coach’s daughter and was all-league last year at the finals. “She puts in a lot of work here and at home,” he said. “She is a good athlete, and she earned the place she is at now.” Melina, surprisingly, did not begin running until she was a freshman.  

“I was playing softball and soccer,” she said, “and I never did running. My family is all runners, and I never joined them until I started high school. The hard part of starting late as a runner is the mental aspect of it. During a run, you are always mentally battling with yourself, and you just have to push past it to make it to the finish line.”

Gabriella Romero, 17, is a senior and also competes in track and field.

“Gaby has been varsity in all her years of competing,” he said. “She came back a lot stronger this year than last year. She is an exceptional athlete.” Romero, however, is much more critical of her efforts.

“I was in a slump last year,” she said. “I was trying my hardest, but I was not seeing much improvement. I was doing extra workouts, but my times were getting really high. I am doing many of the same things now, but with more recovery. I learned about how much recovery can help with my muscles. Each year you do it, no matter how much experience you have, it is going to hurt.”

Unlike last year, Hollister High will not be hosting any cross country events. Their next meet is the Gabilan meet on Sept. 29 at Toro Park.

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