Cross country isn’t just about running. It isn’t just about leading a pack through what is often an obstacle course of dips and hills and bumps along the trail. It is about challenges and goals and the next chase. And for both Coahulla Creek High School senior Sadoth Fraire and Southeast Whitfield sophomore Isabel Salinas, cross country is a lot of work. But for both of them, it is also time well spent and worth all the effort.
Fraire has been running for the Colts since the school opened in 2011, and even though they had made the state meet before, a region title had always eluded his team. But in his final season, he was determined that he would win region, and it was his job to make sure he took the rest of his team with him on the title quest. Mission accomplished.
Salinas’ story in cross country is really just beginning, and it is a journey with a late start. While she has always been a runner, she has preferred the flatness of a track and a measured distance that means four laps and not a trek through the woods. She also had another love in the fall when it came to sports. But when she finally set her feet on a path on a trail and not between two bases on a softball field, she started realizing the potential that others had always seen in her.
This season, Salinas easily won the Big Harry Invitational at Lakeshore Park — where several programs from Murray and Whitfield counties competed — was in the top 10 of the earlier Bruin Invitational at Edwards Park and was the top local finisher at the Region 7-4A girls meet. She finished 10th overall in region and set a personal record of 21 minutes, 22 seconds on the 5K (3.1-mile) course.
Fraire led his Colts to another trip to Carrollton for the state meet after finishing second at the Bruin Invitational (in a photo finish with Gordon Lee’s Dylan Smith), finished second again to Smith at the Big Harry and was the Region 5-3A individual champion as the Colts won the region crown. Fraire had a season average of better than 18 minutes with a personal record of 17:03.
Together, they proved themselves to be the best. For that, Fraire and Salinas have been selected as The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Cross Country Runners of the Year.
Fraire is joined on the All-Area Boys Cross Country Team by freshman teammate Walt Douglas, Southeast Whitfield freshman Luis Perez, Northwest Whitfield sophomore Henson Gibbs and Murray County senior Servio Martinez.
The girls lineup is rounded out by Salinas’ classmate and teammate Ana Padilla, Coahulla Creek freshman Morgan King, Northwest sophomore Nancy Paz and Murray County junior Katlyn Richardson.
Salinas’ road to cross country isn’t an unlikely one, but it is one with a couple of turns. As a freshman, she played softball for the Lady Raiders and coach Kelley Barton. With a team that wasn’t very deep, Salinas saw plenty of playing time as a fleet-footed outfielder who could run the bases very well.
As softball season was wrapping up, she was preparing to play basketball in the winter before running track in the spring, specializing in the 800- and 1,600-meter run — nice, comfortable distances she could go all out for without having to plot pace.
But Southeast cross country coach Carrie Bishop had other plans. Bishop had coached Salinas on the basketball court in middle school, and she knew that Salinas was one of the best runners in the school. She wanted her on the cross country team as well.
“Sometimes you will see a kid who is good at one thing, but she could be really great at another,” Bishop said. “I knew she was pretty special, and I knew before she did. That was why I kept begging her to come out and run with us.”
Salinas said she had very little interest whenever Bishop first came calling.
“She was always on me,” Salinas said. “For me, the idea of cross country, I was never really into it. I never really wanted to run long distances like that. I was more into track and just running a mile. The idea of running 3.1 miles was just a lot. I got tired just doing the one mile, so I really didn’t want to do more than three.”
When the softball season ended, Bishop came back with one request to just come out and run a little, train a little and give it a shot. There was one big regular-season meet and then the region championship meet left on the schedule. What could it hurt?
“I started thinking about it and I thought, ‘Well, I can give it a shot,’” Salinas said.
Bishop had done the hardest part, and now it was time to see if she was right. She was.
“She ran one meet with us before region last year and was our first girl to finish at region as a freshman training for two weeks,” Bishop said. “You just knew as soon as she tried it she was going to be good.”
Salinas said she still wasn’t convinced, but Bishop said Salinas is merely that driven to be the best.
“I was not good,” Salinas said. “It took a lot of adjustments. At the beginning, I did not like it. I had to go through a lot of pain.”
But it got easier and her times started getting better. She played junior varsity basketball as a freshman and ran track. When the summer came along, she knew she had to make a decision between softball and cross country.
“It was a tough decision,” she said, and then she echoed Bishop. “But it came down to why do something that you can be good at when there is something that other people think you can be great at, which was running. So I gave it a shot. My softball teammates and coaches were a little down, but they said they would support what was best for me.”
It turned out it wouldn’t be her last time on a diamond as she returned to the softball team this past fall during a stretch where injuries took their toll on the Southeast lineup. She never left the cross country team, however — because now she couldn’t imagine not running cross country.
“Once you start getting noticed and winning, you tell yourself that it is worth all of the extra work,” she said. “You have to know how to work your pace a lot more in cross country and of course there are the hills. In track it is all flat, and you never know what you might get on a cross-country course. But I love it now.”
And that makes Bishop very pleased.
“She is finally buying into this cross country thing,” Bishop said. “Now, she sees that she is more than just pretty good at it. She is finally seeing what everyone has been telling her from the beginning — that she has tremendous talent.”
Fraire’s journey along the path has been a lot more straightforward.
In the two seasons before his senior campaign, Fraire had seen his team get to the brink of winning a region title. The 2012 season might have been the most disappointing as a torn calf muscle kept him from being at his peak in the Region 5-3A meet.
In his final go-round this year and as the team’s only senior, he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.
Fraire and his teammates were able to give the school its first region title in any sport.
“I didn’t feel any pressure, but I felt a responsibility,” Fraire said. “I was the only senior, and I wanted to try to set an example. Since I was one of the fastest runners, I had to set the pace for everyone else. This season I really tried to make it up for that missed season. I ended up running in three races at the end of the season, but they were a lot slower and I was just barely gaining strength again. I wanted to make up for that.”
With Fraire leading the way, Coahulla Creek coach Josh Deslattes said he had a runner who could challenge the rest of the team and at the same time bring them closer together.
“He was that all-around package,” Deslattes said. “He taught me about showing tolerance and his consistency wasn’t just in running, but in his attitude that he brought to the team.
“He was always a positive support no matter what was going on — on the course or in their everyday lives,” he said. “He was just there for them all of the time. There was no rivalry between him being an upperclassman and them being younger. You would have thought they knew each other all of their lives.”
Fraire is also a soccer standout for the Colts, and Deslattes said he was concerned with just how much Fraire’s injury might affect him. But as the season went on and the times crept lower and lower, Fraire was running better than ever.
“He started off strong, improved throughout the year and even surprised us with what he could do this year,” Deslattes said. “It made it easy from a coaching standpoint. They coached each other throughout the year just by pushing each other more than I ever could.”
Conditioning for soccer was the main reason Fraire started running in the first place.
Now, though, he is torn with which sport he would choose as his favorite.
“I think I have more of a passion for cross country now than soccer,” he said. “It is very different. I like the individual aspect of cross country, but I like the team aspect of soccer. It is better to have a team around you than to be by yourself. Right now, I am interested in Dalton State since it is close and their cross country team is new and pretty strong. I’ll keep running and see where it takes me.”
Here’s a look at the rest of this year’s team:
• Morgan King, Coahulla Creek: King made a big impact in her first varsity season, finishing fourth at the Region 5-3A meet. She ended the year with a season average of 23:29 and a personal record of 22:05. In the Chattanooga Area Cross Country League meets that Coahulla Creek regularly participated in, she was in the top third at all races; she also finished fifth at the Bruin Invitational. A runner who approaches racing with “aggression and strategy,” according to coach Dee Goodwin — herself one of the most accomplished runners in all of northwest Georgia — King is a first-time selection to the team.
• Ana Padilla, Southeast: Good things come in pairs, and Bishop said pairing up with Salinas raised Padilla’s game in her sophomore year. Needing someone to push her, Bishop said, Padilla finished 20th overall at the Region 7-4A meet and had a personal record run of 22:17 this season. She was eighth overall at the Bruin Invitational and was fifth at the Big Harry, right on the heels of King. This is Padilla’s first selection to the team.
• Nancy Paz, Northwest: At the region meet, Paz was Northwest’s top finisher, coming in a spot ahead of Padilla at 19th. She was third overall at the Big Harry in 22:15, and she ran a 22:47 at region. After losing four starters from the 2012 Lady Bruins, Northwest coach Tom Sell said he needed a leader to emerge, and he found it with Paz. Northwest missed advancing to the state meet by one place at region against competition that included three teams ranked in the top 10 in the state. This is Paz’s first selection to the team.
• Katlyn Richardson, Murray County: In her first year running, Richardson made a big splash, taking first at the Bruin Invitational with a time of 24:42. She stayed at the head of the pack for the Lady Indians throughout the rest of the year, leading Murray County to the state meet. The Lady Indians finished fourth overall at region — qualifying for their first trip to state in decades — with Richardson setting the pace with an 18th-place finish overall. She was 59th at the state meet with a time of 24:03.
• Walt Douglas, Coahulla Creek: Another member of a stellar class of freshmen, Douglas has set a high mark for the next three years at Coahulla Creek. In his first season, he was second to Fraire at the region meet, third at the Big Harry and had three top-10 finishes in Chattanooga Area Cross Country League meets. His personal record of 16:52 established a new school mark as well. Since the start of the season, he dropped nearly three minutes off of his time, Deslattes said.
• Henson Gibbs, Northwest: Gibbs was solid all season and had his most impressive performance on the biggest stage. After leading his team to the state meet, he had the second-fastest time from the area with a 17:51 on the challenging Carrollton course. He was fourth at the Bruin Invitational at the start of the season and sixth overall at the Region 7-4A meet with a time of 17:20. Northwest finished second overall at region. This is Gibbs’ first selection to the all-area team.
• Servio Martinez, Murray County: Racing in Class 2A, Martinez had the best place finish at state, taking 19th with a time of 18:18. He was 12th at the Bruin Invitational and 11th in Region 7-2A, which had a very strong group of runners across the board. The Indians were second at region behind Calhoun and were ninth at state. Martinez was also second overall at the Union County Invitational and third at the Calhoun Invitational. He and Fraire are the only seniors on this year’s team, and this is his first selection to the all-area team after earning honorable mention in 2010 and 2011.
• Luis Perez, Southeast Whitfield: The area’s fastest runner on the state course in Carrollton, Perez ran a 17:47 against the top runners in the state. His times improved dramatically over the course of the season. Another freshman, his personal record for the year was 17:14, and he finished a surprising fifth overall at the Region 7-4A meet after Bishop said she pegged him for a 10th-to-15th-place finish. Making the trip individually to state, he was 20th in Class 4A.
• Honorable mention: Coahulla Creek — Rachel Cherry, Timothy Hooper; Dalton — Brandon Pineda, Ashley Parham; Murray County — Jose Ruiz; Northwest Whitfield — Jen Rivera, Dylan Richards, Lane Bramblett.