2016-09-16 / Sports

Pave the way

Royal’s Calderon, Locke put in long miles for girls’ cross country team
Jonathan Andrade
@J_ Andrade_ on Twitter

LEADERS — Danielle Calderon, left, and Delaney Locke are senior captains for the Royal High girls’ cross country team. The first Coastal Canyon League meet is Sept. 29 at Corriganville Park in Simi Valley. Photos by MICHAEL COONS / Acorn Newspapers LEADERS — Danielle Calderon, left, and Delaney Locke are senior captains for the Royal High girls’ cross country team. The first Coastal Canyon League meet is Sept. 29 at Corriganville Park in Simi Valley. Photos by MICHAEL COONS / Acorn Newspapers True leaders are hard to come by.

Not every high school cross country team features superstars capable of motivating teammates and dominating meets. Not all runners are cut out to yell and encourage every runner on their team. It’s not easy guiding workouts and setting the pace on runs that push teammates beyond their comfort level.

With a roster consisting of only 12 girls, Royal High girls’ cross country head coach Jay Sramek must feel like he hit the Powerball with not one but two Highlander senior leaders: Delaney Locke and Danielle Calderon.

“They lead by example with work ethic, running hard and quality workouts,” the coach said of Locke and Calderon. “They have goals of advancing to CIF and reaching the state meet. They’re encouraging girls to do better.”

IN STRIDE— - Andrea Cortes, a senior, is one of Royal’s fastest runners. IN STRIDE— - Andrea Cortes, a senior, is one of Royal’s fastest runners. The seniors have blossomed from the shy freshmen at the back of the pack to top dogs on the hunt for respect in the Coastal Canyon League.

Locke and Calderon worked hard this summer, preparing the team to take the league by surprise.

“I want us to make it out of league,” Locke said. “I think this team deserves it. We’re small, but there’s no overlooking us. We’re still here.”

The coach said he noticed a newfound determination in the girls during the summer. It carried over into preseason meets, and now the Highlanders enter league with momentum.

Royal starts their league slate with a cluster meet on Sept. 29 at Corriganville Park.

“The girls have been training hard,” Calderon said. “We’ve been pushing each other like crazy. We’re upping our mileage, doing things we’ve never done before.”

Calderon, a 17-year-old who also runs track, joined the cross country team her freshman season. The longtime soccer player said it took some convincing from Sramek to initially join the team, but she’s smitten with the sport.

“I love the girls and the atmosphere,” she said of cross country. “Everyone is so supportive. They make it feel like a big family.”

Calderon, the daughter of Bobby and Lisa Calderon, struggled getting back into top shape her junior season because of achy knees stemming from a tumble during a race in her sophomore season.

It’s still early in this year, but Calderon is certain she’s raised her fitness another level for her senior campaign.

“This year’s definitely been my best year,” she said.

The Highlander started the season by crossing the finish line in 19 minutes, 12.8 seconds at the Seaside Invitational on Sept. 9 in Ventura. She was only 1.6 seconds off her three-mile personal best time of 19:11.2 she set at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic as a junior.

She said she’s motivated to consistently finish in less than 19 minutes for every race for the rest of the season. She’s even more determined to help her teammates be by her side as they cross the finish line at races.

Calderon understands the importance of supportive seniors.

“My freshman year, my seniors were everything to me,” she said. “They helped me calm down before races and they helped me get through it all. Now that I get to be that (role model) for the freshmen, I hope they feel the same way.”

Locke is also thriving as a leader for Royal.

The 17-year-old, who has run cross country for 12 years, has come a long way since rambling with the Running Rebels youth team. The youngest of three siblings learned from her older brothers Kyle and Chad about competing. Kyle and Chad were multisport athletes at Royal. Kyle played football and water polo before graduating in 2001. Chad, a 2002 graduate, wrestled and played baseball and football.

Her parents Tim and Holly Locke starred in athletics. Tim played football and baseball at Royal. Holly, a Newbury Park graduate, played basketball and participated in cheer.

Delaney Locke clocked her fastest cross country times during her sophomore season. She blazed through the 2014 Woodbridge Cross Country Classic course in a personal best 18 minutes, 49 seconds.

A hip injury during her sophomore track season hampered her throughout her junior campaign. She’s healthy and upbeat for her senior season.

Locke crossed the finish line in 20:06 at the Seaside Invitational. She’s aiming to finish in the 19-minute range for every race this fall.

It will be bittersweet once her senior season comes to a close.

“It’s exciting moving on (to college), but I’ve run with some of these girls the past four years,” Locke said. “It’s really motivating wanting to have a last good season.”

The younger Highlanders are learning from battle-tested leaders. Royal, like every team in California, has its eyes set on qualifying for state. Calderon and Locke will set the pace.

“I was surprised by how fit they are and how quickly they’re recovering,” the coach said of Calderon and Locke. “They’re healthy and ready to go.”

HIGHLANDERS ON THE HUNT

Talented runners boost Royal’s cross country lineup.

Senior Andrea Cortes is destined for a breakout year, head coach Jay Sramek said.

Cortes, who started running as a sophomore, has emerged as the fastest senior in the lineup. She finished the three-mile course at the Seaside Invitational in 19:02.

“I have high expectations for us this year,” Cortes said. “I’m pretty happy with where I am right now, but I feel like I can get faster.”

She said a desire for success drives the Highlanders.

“If you want it, you’re going to go and get it,” she said. “We can’t give up. Even if we have one bad day or one bad race, we have to stay positive.”

Madeline “The Diesel” Marciano is a strong sophomore for the Highlanders. She was near the front of the pack at the Seaside Invitational in 19:12.

Adriana Perez, a junior, has also stepped up this season.

The Highlanders want to compete in the rugged Coastal Canyon League.

“It’s neat to see the pieces come together,” he said. “We’ll see where this group winds up.”

Email Jonathan Andrade at jandrade@theacorn.com.

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