Though it is quite common to find freshman on Baler varsity teams, discovering two new athletes with a league championship already under their belts is rare. However, the girls’ cross country team was an exception.
Freshmen Kira Emma and Sam Cortez this year were considered some of the best runners in all of the Monterey Bay League. In fact, they recently returned from the MBL finals as Top 7 finishers.
Emma, ranked fifth in the league, and Cortez, ranked third, have each been consistent runners in recent years.
“I have been running kind of all my life,” said Emma.
After a baseball coach took note of her speed, Emma became interested in running for her middle school team at Spring Grove. She moved up the ranks progressively and, by her eighth grade year, was positioned as a top runner for the team.
One of Emma’s teammates was Cortez, who also has run since sixth grade.
“We ran with each other before and went to the same school, but we didn’t really talk that much,” said Cortez. “Now I feel like I can tell her anything.” Emma agreed, adding, “We have definitely become closer.”
But this breakout season has not been all smooth sailing for the league champion Balers. The varsity team had a slow start and lost two of the first MBL Center meets due to a mix of injuries and inexperience.
“I have been through knee pain all season,” said Emma, who injured both of her knees during the summer.
She also strained her hip flexor during P.E. class, early in the season. But regardless of the setbacks, Emma managed to remain one of the top varsity runners throughout the season.
“All that you can do is take it easy and work back up,” she explained.
Cortez stayed relatively healthy this season, but didn’t always run for the varsity team.
“It was a slow process for me to get to where I am now,” said Cortez.
The duo was primed for competition at the Central Coast Section finals and looked to compete at the state championships, if possible. Each had high expectations going into the meet.
“I think as a team we can do pretty good at CCS,” said Emma, “If I get to go to state individually, I would be super happy to go as a freshman.”
Similarly, Cortez hoped “to get a time faster than our last meet.”
Though they did not qualify to move onto the state championships, Emma and Cortez placed 34th and 39th, respectively, out of the 129 athletes that ran. The team placed sixth overall in Division 1.
Both athletes have developed their knowledge of the sport well beyond previous years. Now, each knows what it will take to succeed in the future.
“I learned that you have to push yourself past the limits,” said Cortez.
Emma added, “You have to push yourself mentally, not just physically.”