Ruelas leads No. 4 Hartnell to women's title at Toro Park Invitational; Panther men also victorious

Monica Ruelas took first place at the Toro Invitational in 19:03.0. (Courtesy Hartnell College Athletics)
Monica Ruelas took first place at the Toro Invitational in 19:03.0. (Courtesy Hartnell College Athletics)

Hartnell Toro Park Invitational

SALINAS - Hartnell College sophomore Monica Ruelas used her final run on a course she had toured many times during high school and three times last year as a freshman to see again how much she's improved since last fall, winning the women's race at Harnell Toro Park Invitational and leading the No. 4 Panthers to the team title. Hartnell's 10th-ranked men's team was also victorious, taking first in a five-team competition.

As a freshman, Ruelas finished the season strong earning all-region honors and recorded her lifetime best at Toro Park in the process at 19:54. It was the first time she ever eclipsed the 20-minute barrier over the local course many high schools compete on in league and section championships. On Friday, Ruelas ran solo the second half of the course, which features three hills in succession, to a new lifetime-best of 19:03.

Last year, in the same meet, the sophomore from Gilroy High School only ran 21:11. The mark jumped Ruelas from 24th all-time to 4th overall in program history, trailing only three former All-Americans in Malena Grover, Kathy Lenno, and current assistant coach Rachel Shimabukuro. She also moves into the top 15 performers for all schools.

Ruelas lead a perfect score of 15 points to help Hartnell win the team competition with only individual Hannah Ryan of CCSF breaking up the top six Panthers. Arlene Diaz Leal (19:52) was third, Daniela Salazar (19:57) fourth, Maria Aceves (20:03) fifth, Isabelle Torres (20:06) sixth, and Lauryn Orozco (20:07) seventh. Nina Arias (20:44) was ninth followed by freshman Nerina Campos (21:03) in 10th overall to see eight women earn top 14 medals.

De Anza (51) was second and Clovis (74) finished third.

The men's race featured the second time Chabot College pushed the Panthers for the victory. At the Tour de Cuesta on August 31, the Panthers prevailed by 10 points and on Friday the margin remained the same. The Panthers have been patiently awaiting the arrival of the old form of sophomore Patrick Olson, and his third-place finish in 21:25 to lead the Panthers hopefully signals the start of his charge the championship season.
Olson, who won both the Lou Vasquez and La Positas Invitationals last season, began his training late this fall and struggled early in the season. Friday, he looked much like the CCCAA State 1500-meter qualifier and 8th-place all-region runner from a year ago. He led four Panthers inside the top eight against Chabot's answer of three in the top four. Luis Perez (21:35) in sixth, Nick Merillana (21:39), and Jacob Niles (21:48) all recorded Toro Park-bests for their finishes. 
Freshman Victor Nambo remained consistent for the Panthers placing 14th overall to seal the team victory. The Panthers also had freshman Luis Meza (22:23) and last week's top performer Alfredo Mejia, Jr (22:27) finish 16th and 17th overall, respectively, for added depth against the Gladiators. New program Clovis Community College scored 49 points and could threaten for a top-three trophy at the Northern California Regional Championship in its first year as a program. 

The Panthers are back on the road for the Norcal Preview Meet on Friday, Oct. 5 on the campus of Shasta College.
(Christopher Zependa, Hartnell College Athletics)