Team looks to fill holes

CnJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis High School cross-country coach Mark Bussen leads the varsity boys team during practice Wednesday afternoon at Ned Houk Park. The team opens the season with the Clovis Invitational, set for 3 p.m. Friday at Ned Houk Park.

By Dave Wagner: CNJ Sports Writer

The Clovis High girls got close to competing for a Class 5A state cross country championship last year.

Unfortunately, then-sophomore Caitlin Waters came down with pneumonia just before the District 4-5A meet. She couldn’t run for the Lady Wildcats at state, and they finished 10th.

Now Waters is back and ready to go, and the team’s next two runners — Michelle Schenk, who would be a sophomore, and Nicole Johnson, who would be a senior — have moved away.

That figures to make it tough for the Lady Cats, although Waters can certainly still do some damage on an individual basis.
“I think we’ll have a pretty good team this year,” Waters said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Clovis will host an 11-school invitational meet on Friday at Ned Houk Park. The girls junior varsity race is set for 3 p.m., followed at half-hour intervals by the boys JV race, the girls varsity contest and the boys varsity event.

CHS coach Mark Bussen knows the Lady Cats have their work cut out for them, although they have one of the state’s top runners in Waters.

“Her goal is to be in position to race for the (individual) state title,” he said. “One drawback right now is she doesn’t have anyone to really push her.”

Junior Kayla Merritt was a fulltimer on the varsity last year, while several others split time between the varsity and JV levels. Senior soccer player Lora Esquivel, who ran cross country two years ago but not last year, is back to split time between the two sports.

“It’ll be tough,” Bussen said. “Realistically, we’ll strive to win a district title and then if we can place well at state, we’ll try to do that.”
Waters, who won the 5A state 800 race in track last spring, said she’s perhaps more concerned with trimming time at this point.
“I really want to break 19 minutes this year,” she said. “I think I’m doing pretty good. Coach Bussen said he thinks I’m in better shape than last year.”

As for the boys, Bussen said the Wildcats have five runners with faster times this year than anyone turned in last fall.

Freshman Seth Zarate was the Cats’ top state finisher last year (40th place), but so far juniors Justin Kyle and Justin Netcher have led the way in practice.

“They did some training during the summer,” Bussen said. “They’re both much-improved.”

Kyle, who said he ran 165 miles on his own during the summer, admitted he’s surprised to have the best times so far in practice.
“I didn’t think I’d be (the) No. 1 (runner), but I knew I’d be up there,” he said. “I’ve just worked hard.

“I think it should be a good season. We have a good team.”

Bussen said the Cats could do some damage.

“I think the boys probably have a stronger chance than the girls (to win) at the district level,” he said. “If our time trials are any indication, they have a chance at maybe a top six or seven finish at state.”