“From late June to mid-July, a group of us practiced four days a week for four weeks, going about four miles at a time,” said Howard, who is entering his fourth and final season. “I think this boys team knows that it’s capable of contending for a league title. That’s the goal of this season.”
Howard and his teammates make up a fiercely competitive boys team that finished second last year in the Western Athletic Conference behind perennial frontrunner Livingston High.
“Once we start bonding and the meets start to go by, we’ll talk about goals more,” Howard said. “Right now, we’re focused on practices that have us working as hard as we can to prepare for the upcoming season.”
With those thoughts in mind, longtime coaches Dave Klein and Joe Aguilar are embarking on another season at the helm of the Patterson High cross country program, with about 30 runners in tow.
The team’s campaign starts Wednesday, Aug. 29, with a tri-meet against Newman’s Orestimba High and Millennium High of Tracy at T.W. Patterson Sports Park. But the Tigers can already be seen running throughout town after school.
“We’re really trying to get our legs underneath us and put on some miles,” said Aguilar, who coaches the boys team. “I think with hard work, we have the potential to be a better team (than a season ago).”
The Patterson boys team emerged as a force during the 2011 regular season, going 4-2 in league competition and sending seven runners to the Sac-Joaquin Section meet at Folsom’s Willow Hills Reservoir.
The six-member Patterson freshman boys team finished fourth overall in the 2-mile race Nov. 11, and then-sophomore Nathan Stanton placed 21st out of 80 runners on the 3-mile varsity boys course.
Only the top two freshman teams and the top eight runners not on a top-two squad advanced to the California Interscholastic Federation Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Among varsity runners, only the top three teams and no more than five individuals from the section meet qualified for the state event.
“I think (the boys) are on track to be as big a threat to the league as last season,” Aguilar said.
Howard and Stanton, the key returning runners from last year’s team, are expected to provide leadership and guidance.
“Leadership doesn’t always have to come from the fastest kids,” Aguilar said. “Our younger runners can learn a lot from the experience of (Howard and Stanton). Those two compete with confidence, which is what you want to see.”
Several other boys runners, including Ben Vega, Julius Flores, Dylan Halland and Dylan Christiansen, also return to the fold.
Patterson’s girls team finished third behind runner-up Ceres High and league champion Livingston in 2011 after four consecutive league titles. That Tigers squad graduated several senior runners, including Meghan Wraa, Maritza Vega, Theresa Bays and Laura Thompson.
However, several runners are ready to pick up where their predecessors left off, Klein said.
“We’re still trying to sort out the kids who are going to be quality varsity runners,” Klein said. “About half of the kids that we have now will make that full commitment to get the best from themselves. We want that same 50 percent to compete for 100 percent of the race.”
Newcomers to the girls team will have a tall order to fill, Klein predicted.
“Some of these girls are still learning to run,” Klein said. “The league season is always what we are gearing towards. Along the way, the girls’ stamina and endurance levels will begin to improve.”
The Tigers begin competition Wednesday against Orestimba High of Newman and Millennium High of Tracy at the T.W. Patterson Sports Park. The meet starts at 3:30 p.m.
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or email@example.com At a glance
•COACHES: Dave Klein (girls), 12th season; Joe Aguilar (boys), 18th season
•LAST YEAR: Girls, 5-1 Western Athletic Conference (third place); Boys, 4-2 WAC (second place)
•KEY LOSSES: Meghan Wraa, Maritza Vega, Theresa Bays, Laura Thompson, Roxanna Gutierrez, Jose Martinez, Ryan Wraa, Mylek McDowell, Leroy Collins
•KEY RETURNERS: Nathan Stanton, Joey Howard, Ben Vega, Julius Flores
•TOP NEWCOMERS: None