Hartnell College sophomore Diego Leon is the epitome of a blue collar runner. As a high school runner his first two years were no better than a very good high school girl. Then the decision his junior year to test his limits and take training more seriously set the wheel of progress in motion and he quickly made up for lost time. As a junior, he placed fifth at the CIF CCS Division V championships at Crystal Springs in 17:10. As a senior he moved up to the CCS Division V champion in 16:20 at Toro Park. Leon's freshman year at Hartnell College, he placed fourth overall at the Northern California Championships. On Friday, he became one of just the five regional champions in Hartnell College history with his winning time of 20:55 for 4.195 miles over the same trails just five years before he struggled to run 19:59 for just 2.95 miles. He bested second place runner Abdul Hamid from American River College by 8 seconds, all coming in the final 200 meters of the race. Leon has only finished lower than first in one race this season, a second placed at the Tour de Cuesta in early September. He was victorious at the Fresno Invitational, Crystal Springs Invitational, Toro Park Invitational, Mt. SAC Invitational and Coast Conference Championship, along with the Northern California Championship. All that remains is the overall title at the California Community College State Championship on November 22 in Fresno at Woodward Park. A year ago, the entire Hartnell College team ended up on the bottom of an early race pile-up just after the start of the race with Leon pinned under several runners. He was able to get up and race the next four miles but placed only 54th in 21:27, 17 seconds slower than he ran in September at the Fresno Invitational. Leon will look to duplicate the individual state championship that Daniel Tapia earned in 2009. Tapia holds the Hartnell College record for Woodward Park set in the same year at 20:05.
The Hartnell Lady Panthers have had a stranglehold on the top ranking in Northern California since the Fresno Invitational in September where they were the highest placing Northern California team. On Friday, they dominated the regional championship placing three runners in the top seven and five in the top 17 to score just 45 points to win the title. Frosh Malena Grover, formerly Salinas High School, was the top placing Lady Panther in fourth at 18:42. She was followed by fellow froshRachel Shimabukuro (18:54) in sixth and Brandi Hobson (19:00) in seventh. Nancy Rodriguez (19:22) placed twelfth to add a fourth Lady Panther to the All-Norcal team. Freshman Cynthia Tovar (19:51) placed 17th in her first ever regional championship after being a junior varsity runner for Alisal High School two years ago. Maritza Ruelas (20:22) and Maria Rodriguez (20:33) completed the Lady Panthers squad. In winning the regional title, the ladies bring home their first title since 2010 and combined conference and regional titles for the first time since 2003.
In addition to Leon's overall win, the Panther men moved up from third place as a team in 2012 and 2013 to second overall behind state ranked second American River College. The Hartnell men have placed inside the top three in the region ever year since 2010 and match the runner-up finish of 2010. The last regional title for Hartnell College was 2006. Former Watsonville Wildcats Justin Carrancho (21:51) in tenth and Rene Siqueiros (21:55) both earned All-Norcal honors for their places. Diego Avila (22:38) in 22nd and Javier Garcia (22:44) completed the scoring for the Panthers. Hartnell finished behind American River College at 23 but ahead of third place Fresno City College at 109. Andrews Gutierrez (22:55) and Luis Vargas (23:09) also competed for the Panthers.
Both teams will compete on November 22nd at Woodward Park in Fresno at the California Community College State Championship.