Isaiah Aguilar doesn’t know it yet, but that tingling feeling on the back of his neck is a result of the crosshairs planted on his back by fellow Oakdale High sophomore, Octavio Padilla.
Aguilar is currently the fastest boy in Oakdale’s varsity cross country lineup, but Padilla, a second year runner and brother to longtime cross country standout Eric Padilla, is gunning for him.
“I want to beat Isaiah,” Padilla said on Sunday. “I want to be the fastest on the team and win the Mustang award at the end of the year.”
It’s a lofty goal, considering Aguilar departed the highly competitive Sierra Invitational on Sept. 8 with a sixth overall finish (11 minutes, 2 seconds in two miles) in sophomore boys. Padilla was awaiting his clearance from a physical and didn’t compete, but it didn’t shake his resolve.
“Octavio is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to,” Oakdale coach Guy Fowler said. “He’s that talented of a runner.
“His potential is limitless and he is still growing.”
And he’s certainly not the only one with potential. Between Aguilar, Padilla and Mike Chapin, most of Oakdale’s best runners are sophomores. The team returns seniors Louie Brichetto, Luke Neubaum and Josue Baez with newcomers Ricardo Rojas (junior) and Curtis Bishop (sophomore) to round out a lineup that features an odd combination of youth, experience and depth.
Since Manteca returns all but one member of their Sac-Joaquin Section qualifying team from 2011, Oakdale’s youth will likely keep the unit from a conference title. Sierra was a section qualifier last year and graduated four of their top six runners, but will see capable replacements from two top-23 runners from last year’s SJS Division III sophomore championships.
“I think we will be competitive,” Fowler said. “Third place would be realistic for us. Anything above that would mean we did a great job.
“We’re not going for third because you always want to win it, but there are some talented teams out there.”
Aguilar was the fastest varsity runner at a tri-meet scrimmage with Central Valley and Ceres across 5,000 meters at Woodward Reservoir on Aug. 30. Chapin, Rojas, Andrew Howard (freshman), Neubaum, Baez, Cameron Elswick (junior), Ryan Stefani (senior) and Bishop rounded out Oakdale finishes in that order.
Oakdale was fifth in the VOL a season ago.
“They are going to run hard because they have something to prove,” Fowler said, adding that the weakness is likely in its youth.
“Can they handle the pressure of leading the team?” is the question only the runners can answer as the season goes on.
And as long as teammates are still fighting for the right to lead the team, the pressure shouldn’t be an issue.