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HAWAII BOUND - Bruin Harriers Prepare For Exciting Island Trek
7-10 RIV XC1
A scampering Mikayla Florez, pictured here in 2012, is a favorite to leave the Iolani Invitational in Hawaii with championship honors. She will join varsity girls and boys from RHS in an epic trek to the race on Oahu. - photo by News File Photo

Varsity runners on Riverbank High’s boys and girls cross country teams should remember the wise words of Jeff Goldblum as they dash through exquisite scenery at Kualoa Ranch on the island of Oahu, Hawaii from Sept. 19 to 23.

On the same site where Goldblum personified the distinguished Dr. Ian Malcom in the epic blockbuster, Jurassic Park, Bruin harriers should run as if pursued by a charging Tyrannosaurus Rex.

As Dr. Malcom urged, “Must go faster.”

Kualoa Ranch is the host site of the prestigious Iolani Invitational, an annual race in its 15th year under the gun, considered one of the toughest and most exhilarating running events for prep athletes each year.

Riverbank’s cross country program has been raising funds since December to afford the trek, guaranteeing a return trip after attending the same event in 2010.

The Lady Bruins were third among all teams that year after a fifth place overall finish from Mikayla Florez. The running phenomenon was seventh at the state meet as a junior in 2012, and plans to wear a first-place medal from Iolani like a Hawaiian lei.

“It was tough for (Florez) to really go after it (in 2010), because she didn’t know the course,” Riverbank coach Monte Wood said. “The course can be confusing because it has several loops, but this year, she is going for the win.

“We will arrive early enough to go over the course several times, so she is comfortable running at the front.”

Wood said he expects both the girls and boys to compete for top-three honors amidst a respected field that includes perennial California powers and elite competition from across the United States.

“(The 2010 RHS girls) were beaten by DI perennial power Dana Hills and the No. 1 ranked team in Hawaii, Punaho,” Wood explained. “That year we defeated Laguna Beach, which was a ranked D-IV team at the time of the race.

“Teams from Washington, Massachusetts, California, Arizona, and of course, many schools from Hawaii competed. Last year Clovis of Fresno competed in the race and Palos Verdes, another perennial power from the Southern Section, competed in the race.”

It’s easy to see why elite programs attend the invitational.

The course runs alongside an island with a plush green mountain jutting from the earth and is surrounded by a glimmering cobalt ocean.

“It is a beautiful place to run on a moderately challenging course,” coach Wood said.

With Hawaii and the upcoming fall season looming, coach Wood’s summer workouts have been vigorous and well-attended.

“We have had over 30 athletes at each training session so far,” Wood said. “We have also had several alumni, parents, and now community members join us. We are trying to expand the running community in Riverbank and we want more people running with us.

“I really feel as if those who have joined us have benefitted greatly.”

Among the alumni present were 2010 RHS graduate Alex Reyes and 2011 Riverbank News Athlete of the Year, Ben Hodges. Both were state qualifiers and Reyes runs for Stanislaus State while Hodges attends the Air Force Academy.

The successful alumni are a good presence for a hoard of strong talent at RHS. The Bruin boys return three standouts in Jonathen Beliera, Luis Figueroa, and Adrian Salazar while Ruben Paredez, Eric Hernandez, Moises Gomez, and Sam Gong could develop into a serious small-school strength.

The girls have a superstar in Florez, but track stars Sabrina Garcia and Haley Richardson round out a choice top-three. Melissa Romero, Stephanie Zarate, Lydia Hodges, and newcomer Jeanette Murillo will aid the depth of the squad while freshman Joslyn Beliera has impressed coach Wood this summer.

Training for RHS runners is aided by a generous donation by the Arrowhead Club of Stanislaus County, which paid for 10 GPS watches for Bruin runners this year.

“The watches track pace, mileage, splits, and overall time,” coach Wood said. “The kids get immediate data about how fast they are running and how far they have run which is really important. Instead of them guessing at how far they have run and at what pace, they can know exactly and that should be a tremendous benefit.

“I purchased one last year and allowed Mikayla Florez to use it, and it helped her tremendously — especially zeroing in on her pace.”


Coach Wood said although the team has raised funds for the trip since December, they are still searching for individuals or businesses to support the trek to Hawaii. Interested parties can contact coach Wood at or call 209 869-1891, extension 103.