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Riverbank's Florez Claims Second Cross Country Section Title
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The legend of Riverbank High junior Mikayla Florez has been etched across another page of the Bruin record book.

Florez galloped to the front of a pack of 78 runners at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championships at Willow Hill in Folsom on Saturday, besting them all by an astounding 27 seconds for the fastest D-IV time in Willow Hill history to claim her second straight individual section title.

The victory vaulted Florez to her third straight trip to the California Interscholastic Federation Championships in Fresno on Nov. 24.

"To me it seemed harder to win sections a second time, so it felt even more rewarding to do it this time," Florez said on Monday. "I'm pretty excited to see how much my hard work has paid off at state."

The D-IV championships didn't fall in line with the typical race-strategy Florez exhibits when her two biggest competitors, Sonora's Samantha Smith and Summerville's Kristen Turner (both seniors), elected not to claim the race lead and stay in the middle of the pack.

Since Florez has a reputation for a tremendous late-race kick, the move had potential to save the seniors some late energy for their own push in the race's final stages - but Florez and coach Monte Wood had other plans.

"We had talked about some different scenarios, and one was if those two decided not to take the lead," coach Wood said. "I knew Mikayla was faster, so I told her that if they weren't going to take the lead, she should just take it."

Florez sped to the front of the pack early in the contest, then surged ahead as her competitors floundered in her wake.

When she dashed up difficult hills late in the race, it was clear she would not be caught. She cruised to a 19 minute, 3 second time to stay well out of reach of a Smith, who was second at 19:30.

The win was a nice competitive tune-up in preparation for Florez' third state meet. She was 72nd among the field of 188 qualifiers as a freshman, then landed 17th despite some struggles in 2011. Last year's state meet was considered the fastest race in D-IV history, but graduated 10 of the runners in the top-16.

Florez has already bested last year's state time on the same course (the Roughrider Invitational) by over 20 seconds, making her a clear competitor to snare a top-10 finish as a junior and escape competition with a state medal.

"I want to run in the low (18-minute mark) or better," Florez said. "It's a fast course and the competition I have already had on the course has helped to build me up."

Wood said he expects Florez to nab a personal best from around 18:00 to 18:20. The time would have been good enough for top-10 last year, despite the ridiculous level of competition present. Since only four runners return with sub 18:40 times, anything in that region should be a sure state medal finish.

Wood said the presence of other runners pushing for a similar time or better should do wonders to keep Florez in the hunt for a medal.

"For distance running, a lot of it is about your pace," Wood said. "At the state meet she will have girls on her shoulders, and that should help her."

Florez was the only Bruin to qualify for state and one of three to medal. First-year cross country sensation Hayley Richardson (sophomore) landed an impressive 10th place overall time at 10:48 to miss state qualification by just 23 seconds and three race placements. She was faster than 11 runners who qualified to state with their teams (Amador and Dixon). Riverbank was seventh among the 10 teams to qualify thanks to a personal best by Sabrina Garcia (21:37) and sharp times by Kelyn Murillo (23:11) and Kim Munguia (23:58).

The Riverbank boys were one of three Trans-Valley League teams to place in the top seven, but couldn't nab advancement. Luis Figueroa was 13th overall and nine seconds shy of a state appearance with his 17:24. Adrian Salazar was 26th at 17:49 while Jonathen Beliera ended 43rd (18:11). Ruben Paradez ran a terrific personal best at 18:29 while Moises Gomez was strong at 18:50.

Freshman Lydia Hodges led the Bruin lower levels by nabbing a medal with her eighth place overall finish on the short course in 15:04.

"We ran really fast times on the section course, which made me happy," coach Wood said. "We lose only one boy to graduation this year, so next year we will have very talented boys and girls and will push for a section championship in both."