TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic junior Jamie Kawaguchi and the Valiants have won back-to-back state championships the past two seasons are prepared to shoot for a third this year.

The well of talented cross country runners — both girls and boys — never seems to run dry at Valley Catholic.

Year after year, the Valiants keep plugging in new packs of competitors, particularly on the boys side, and winning in spectacular, state-wide fashion. The past two seasons, Valley’s boys squad has garnered state championships, one at the Class 3A level and last year at the more competitive 4A classification. Despite losing solo stars each year, the Valiants dig deep into their reservoir of athletes, piece together a deep, fast group of runners and earn state titles.

With six of the seven runners back from last year’s state-championship squad returning, Valley’s anticipation for another crown is just as high.

“Having that tradition and winning culture is huge,” said Valley head coach Tommy Manning. “Guys know where the teams before them have been. They want to keep it there. They want to take it there and they buy in. That’s been instilled by the guys before them.”

According to Manning, senior Ben Davidson won’t run the first couple of meets because of a lower leg injury. However, Davidson is cross-training, staying fit and doing the little things needed to get himself back at the front of the pack sooner than later.

Davidson placed third at state last year and second at the Cowapa League district meet. With 2015 grad Wilder Boyden off to Santa Clara, it’s now Davidson’s time time to step in and carry Valley’s mantle just as Boyden and 2013 star Cooper Roach did before him.

“Ben’s ready for it,” said Manning. “He’s totally embraced the role of being a leader. He’s done a tremendous job. I told him he doesn’t have to be Cooper or Wilder. He just has to do his own thing and be himself. He’s a kid who leads by example. He’s a strong presence on the team and the kids respect him, plus he has the times to back it up.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Ben Davidson took third at the Class 4A state championship meet last season and helped the Valiants win the team state title.

Jamie Kawaguchi was Valley’s third-best runner last year as a sophomore and will step into the second slot this year. Jacob Godshalk was injured in the spring during the track season, but he’s back as one of the Valiants top-five runners as is senior Alex Kiss and junior Phillip Borlet.

All four were instrumental at the state meet last year, with Kawaguchi 14th overall, and Borlet and Godshalk 26th and 27th.

“I think we have the right tools to have another successful season,” said Manning. “The guys will be tough. It’ll be exciting to see what happens. We just have to stay healthy, take each day as it goes and be smart.”

Following Manning’s training regimen during the offseason, Davidson and company ran all summer together and laid the foundation for this coming season. Sophomores Jackson Hicken and Nate Schmidlin have the potential to be amongst Valley’s top seven runners and round out what Manning believes will be a contending, swift squad.

“It’s one of those sports where if you put in your time, good things will happen,” said Manning. “Those guys have done that. They work really well together and feed off each other.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Maricela Jaroch went to state as a freshman and sophomore and hopes to go back in her final season as a Valiant.

Valley Catholic girls

The Valiant girls team brings back four of its five top runners including seniors Maricela Jaroch and Ermina Lee, junior Julia Clark and sophomore Mary Eisenbacher. Graduation ravaged Valley’s squad last year, but Manning said he was proud with how the group competed and fought. Advancing to the state meet this year is “definitely something” that can happen for the girls according to Manning.

Jaroch is one of Valley’s more highly-decorated female racers, having garnered 3A state berths as a freshman and sophomore. Last season, Jaroch took seventh at the Cowapa district meet and hopes to take the Valiants toward the top of the league.

“Her goal is to be a leader,” said Manning of Jaroch. “She has the experience. The past couple of weeks she’s really embraced that leadership role and (Lee) has too. They’re both really nice girls. They’ve been great for the program. It’s their turn.”

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