Scorpions put on a late-season push

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The Camarillo High boys’ cross country squad will compete in Saturday’s CIF Cross Country State Championships at Fresno. The Scorpions are scheduled to run in the Division II final at 11:15 a.m. Pictured, from left, is coach Charlie Carranza, coach Al Alvarez, Michael Gutierrez, Cole Couchman, Ben Aleman, Zach Gomez, Joel Gonzales, Lucas Giles, Trevor Stangle, Adam Lucero, Esteban Vega and head coach Mike Smith. Butch, the team mascot, is seated in front. He’s the Scorpions’ biggest fan. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Just in time for the holidays, the Camarillo High boys’ cross country team delivered a heartwarming tale that could soothe the soul of any grinch.The Scorpions endured injuries. They suffered a rare loss to Rio Mesa earlier this season. They were sixth at the Ventura County Championships.

A bid to the state meet seemed more remote than pedaling a tricycle across Jupiter.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the state meet three weeks ago,” said Mike Smith, Camarillo’s head coach and athletic director.

While Adam Lucero and Esteban Vega returned from injuries and the other Scorpions continued to surge, the team earned a trip to, in Smith’s words, the “Super Bowl of high school cross country.”

Camarillo will race at the CIF Cross Country State Championships Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno. The Division II boys’ race starts at 11:15 a.m.

Joel Gonzalez, the Scorpions’ No. 1 runner, leads the charge with Lucero, Vega, Cole Couchman, Lucas Giles, Zach Gomez and Trevor Stangle. Michael Gutierrez and Ben Aleman are Camarillo’s top alternates.

“I’m real proud of the guys getting there,” said Smith, who’s in his 30th season guiding ACHS.

“This is a very special group to me. They’ve overcome an awful lot and shown mental toughness.”

In late summer, Lucero and Vega developed serious injuries.

Lucero had a stress reaction—a precursor to a stress fracture—in his right leg. Vega had a crack on the outer part of his ankle bone.

The duo made its season debut on Oct. 13—they hadn’t run more than five feet since mid-August— during a rematch against Rio Mesa.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Smith said. “I knew they were great competitors, but we had to wait and see what happened.”

Camarillo defeated its rivals, setting the stage for a Pacific View League championship later in the season.

“That’s a tribute to Adam Lucero and Esteban Vega,” the coach said.

“ It would have been very easy for them to keep doing pool workouts and take it easy. They wanted it so much. They wanted so much to be champs. That was a great day for all of us.”

The Scorpions finished sixth at the CIF- Southern Section Division 2 finals to advance to state.

Camarillo has learned a lot on this journey.

“It’s a great lesson for the kids,” Smith said. “It was important for the kids who were not hurt to keep battling and do their best. It’s a great lesson for the two guys who were hurt. They learned the importance of not giving up on yourself and battling back to help your team.

“There are so many lessons about life you can learn in longdistance running: setting longterm goals, working hard to achieve a long-term goal, working with other people to accomplish something together. This is one of my favorite groups.”

The Scorpions hope for one more great race, in the majestic splendor of Woodward Park.

“It’s such a great atmosphere,” the coach said. “The leaves are turning yellow and orange. It’s like you’re in a different part of the country. For most of the course, you run through a tunnel of people screaming on each side. There’s a lot of electricity in the air.

“I also want them to pop that one great race we know is in us.”

Rio Mesa’s Geno Arthur will run in the boys’ Division III race.

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