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Junior Standout Florez Lands State Medal
Mikayla Florez has a new favorite necklace.

The standout junior on Riverbank High's cross country team exploded with a tremendous late kick to push past elite runners and end seventh overall in the California Interscholastic Federation Division IV Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday.

The 18 minute, 44 second time and top-10 finish awarded Florez her first ever CIF medal, the much desired hardware sought by all athletes in the pinnacle race of California cross country.

But it didn't come easy.

Florez was out of medal contention at 12th place among the field of 202 qualifying runners with 100 meters remaining on the five kilometer course, but erupted with a stunning kick to glide past some of the best runners in the state. She leaned past Claire McMillan of San Lorenzo Valley (the No. 4 ranked D-IV runner in the state according to to finish seventh by under a second.

"She told me her legs were burning were bad and she thought about just giving in, but she told herself she had worked too hard for this and went after it," Riverbank coach Monte Wood said. "Her race wasn't exactly what we planned, but it worked out to where she earned a spot on the podium."

Florez entered the race ranked 11th in the state, but beat the runners listed at No. 1, No. 4, No. 5, No. 7, No. 9 and No. 10 on the state rankings. She was the fourth-fastest non senior and bested the next fastest runner from the Sac-Joaquin Section by nearly a full a minute.

It was an impressive finish, considering the time failed to reach Florez' fastest career mark on the course (18:36), but did best her 18:57 that landed her 17th at the same race a year ago.

"It wasn't her fastest time of the year, but it was her gutsiest race," Wood said. "She actually didn't put herself in the right position in the first mile, and it probably cost her a few places and maybe 15 to 20 seconds on her time."

Florez was 15th after a mile and 12th after two miles. Her push toward the front in the final 100 meters is the stuff of legends.

"In cross country, very little changes after the first two miles," Wood explained. "Most of the time, where a runner is at the two-mile mark is where they finish. They may move a place or even two, but nothing really major.

"This is where Mikayla's guts kicked in."

After the race, Florez took time to pose for photos, and spent time with Riverbank graduate German Fernandez, the current 5K record holder in state cross country by nearly 20 seconds and an Olympic Trials qualifier.

Florez will take on the National Junior Olympics in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Dec. 8 as a member of the Buffalo Babes Running Club of Stockton.