By Chris Whitfield
Isabel Salinas has always been a runner.
This year, the Southeast Whitfield High School sophomore’s competitive nature has helped her become one of the area’s best on the trail.
“This is my first year running cross country, and I have really had to work hard to get used to it,” said Salinas, who runs track and field for the Lady Raiders in the spring. “At first my times were really slow. My timing was a little off at the beginning of the year.”
Thursday afternoon at Dalton High School’s Big Harry Invitational at Lakeshore Park, Salinas’ timing was on the mark. She took first place in the girls race, finishing 16 seconds faster than her nearest competitor with a winning time of 21 minutes, 41 seconds on the 5K (3.1-mile) course.
The course and race are named after the late “Big Harry” Renz, who was influential in the area’s prep running scene and helped start Dalton High’s annual track and field invitational. This is the third straight running of the event and came with near perfect running conditions on the brisk afternoon.
Northwest Whitfield’s girls and Coahulla Creek’s boys won the team titles in the six-school event, with the latter’s Sadoth Fraire the top local finisher in another neck-and-neck race with winner Dylan Smith of Gordon Lee.
Salinas has been at the head of the pack for the Lady Raiders all season, but she is finally getting out in front of a lot of others as well.
She said her time Thursday was a new personal record.
“You have to know when to push and when to not let the course get the best of you in cross country,” she said. “This is a pretty flat course, and I enjoyed it. I am starting to learn how to be smarter in my races.”
All five of Northwest’s scoring runners finished in the top 15 for 51 points. Dalton (69 points), Coahulla Creek (86) and Southeast (169) rounded out the places. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and Gordon Lee also had runners competing, but they did not have enough runners to compete in the team standings.
Northwest Whitfield’s score was compiled by Nancy Paz (third, 22:15), Caroline Duffy (ninth, 22:42), Jen Rivera (10th, 22:49), Ashley Sweeney (14th, 23:12) and Samantha Wooten (15th, 23:13). Scoring for Dalton were Ashley Parham (11th, 22:52), Beronica Hernandez (12th, 23:05), Bitia Paz (13th, 23:07), Santa Ibarra (16th, 23:19) and Monica Vega (17th, 23:21).
Coahulla Creek’s scoring runners were Morgan King (fourth, 22:23), Rachel Cherry (sixth, 22:33), Evelyn Botello (23rd, 23:58), Bethany Goodwin (25th, 24:25) and Ationza Smith (28th, 24:43). For Southeast, besides Salinas, scoring runs came from Anna Padilla (5th, 22:23), Maria Quijano (39th, 26:08), Jessica Cervantes (46th, 28:47) and Sandy Torres (48th, 30:14).
In the boys race, although the finish between Gordon Lee’s Smith and Coahulla Creek’s Fraire wasn’t as close as earlier this season at Northwest’s Bruins Invitational — when the pair battled for position every step of the way down to the finish line — they still put on a good show. Smith was able to outkick Fraire down the stretch, winning with a time of 17:09, two seconds faster the Coahulla Creek senior, who was nine seconds ahead of freshman teammate Walt Douglas, the third-place finisher.
“I like running in the cool weather, and we have to get used to this kind of weather for the state meet,” Fraire said. “It felt good out there, and I think that it showed because every one of us either set or came close to setting personal records. This course is a lot of fun.”
Fraire’s time bettered his previous best by a second.
“I am looking at his times, and the slowest time was at the first race, and he has improved every single race since then,” Coahulla Creek coach Josh Deslattes said. “He set a new PR today, and he has been a great leader for the entire team. He is not just a great athlete. He will work with anyone, and that is going to be a big hole to fill next year. I think he definitely has a shot to be the individual champion at (Tuesday’s Region 5-3A meet at Cartersville’s Dellinger Park.)”
The Colts had four runners in the top 10 on Thursday. In addition to Fraire and Douglas, Timothy Hooper (sixth, 17:53), Missael Fraire (ninth, 18:05) and Oscar Andres (23rd, 18:54) scored.
Northwest was second with 57 points, paced by Henson Gibbs (fourth, 17:26), Lane Bramblett (eighth, 18:04), Dylan Richards (12th, 18:27), Brandon Bolino (15th, 18:36) and Luke Stevens (18th, 18:41).
Scoring for Dalton (69 points) were Brandon Pineda (fifth, 17:40), Eduardo Loredo (11th, 18:25), Jose Boyzo (13th, 18:29), Erik Villalobos (14th, 18:31) and Uriel Martinez (16th, 18:37). Scoring for Southeast (169) were Luiz Perez (10th, 18:14), Omar Ruiz (31st, 19:31), Hunter Young (36th, 19:50), Daniel Trianna (43rd, 20:14) and Jose Hurtado (49th, 20:37).