Here’s how Beyer boys cross country team qualified for its first State Meet in 23 years

·6 min read

The Beyer boys cross country program was once a power, sending runners off to run in college at the Division I level.

But, not since 1998 had the school sent a team to the CIF State Meet.

Until now.

The 23-year drought ended earlier this month when the team clinched a berth into Saturday’s meet at Fresno’s Woodward Park by virtue of its second-place finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III meet a few weeks ago.

The journey to the 2021 State Meet began two years ago.

Beyer welcomed ultramarathoner and multiple Modesto Marathon winner Jon Olsen as a parent helper and a talented, hungry freshman class that was well beyond its years and included Nathanael Olsen, Jon Olsen’s son.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the team suffered.

About half of the freshman class that showed promise in their first season left the next year, and with students graduating, numbers in the program dipped. They were, however, able to get a group together to still go on runs during the spring.

Toward the end of track season, Olsen took a handful of team members on a four-mile run on a spring afternoon. Olsen’s plan was to ask about what their plans were for the upcoming season.

“The mindset was … we’re always shooting for something,” Jon Olsen said. “There’s always something off in the distance to continue to pull us and motivate us.

“I wanted to get in their heads and that we’re wrapping up track season but we already need to start thinking about next year and … what we wanted to do as a team.”

Two runners step up to motivate team

Then juniors, Tahbert Bui and Gary Letepia, who aren’t known for being the team’s vocal leaders, spoke up first to everyone’s surprise, saying they wanted to go to state for their senior season.

“Yeah, it would be cool,” Olsen responded. “But do you guys realize how much work that’s going to take?

“We’re not going to be able to just show up. It’s gonna take a lot of work and we might fall short. Are you guys willing to put in the work?”

Every one of them responded with “Yes” and they took the foundation that started in 2019 to a different level.

The work started almost immediately.

They joined an AAU team that included athletes from Beyer and Davis all the way down to runners in middle school.

“(The meeting) unified everybody behind the one goal,” two-time WAC champion Nathanael Olsen said. “We decided that afternoon that was what we wanted and made it the chase and all the hard work a little easier because we knew that we all had one goal that we were going after.”

Beyer had five to seven of its top runners on the team, and ran extra miles on weekends. They added strength training to their workout regimen and worked on distance running rather than speed, running up to eight miles a day so a three-mile race became easier.

“They were starting to see that to be successful at your sports season, you actually needed to come in shape and have an offseason to build into your actual season and a lot of the kids bought into that.” Jon Olsen said.

After their first real taste of offseason workouts, the Patriots had success in the WAC. But it wasn’t like a trip to the state meet was guaranteed.

In September, coach Steve Eitelgeorge and Jon Olsen had a conversation. They weren’t sure if the lofty goals the team had set the spring prior would be attainable. Two of their best runners were coming off injuries and though the team ran well in the first few league meets, they produced nowhere near state-level times.

“We thought we had an outside shot at the state meet at the beginning of the year, and then as we started looking at results, it looked like maybe that wasn’t going to happen,” Eitelgeorge said “Our division seemed to be pretty competitive this year and they were only taking two teams.”

Said Jon Olsen: “It looked like we were going to win league, but the idea of trying to go to state didn’t look like it was in the cards in September. We were behind the scenes going, ‘Do we need to shift our mindset? Do we need to shift our goals for the rest of the season and orchestrate our workouts that way?’”

Patriots meet the challenge

Qualifying for state was turning into an uphill battle, but the Patriots didn’t run away from the challenge. Their runners got healthy at the right time and everything started to click. Junior Ryan Elias and others improved as the season went on, leading to their second undefeated season, which meant they qualified for the sub-section meet.

After finishing in the top 10, the Patriots advanced to the section championship in Folsom, where they had to be one of the top two teams in their division to qualify for the state meet.

“There’s only two teams from our division that qualify,” said Guy Fowler, coach of the Oakdale High program that sends both its boys and girls teams to Saturday’s meet. “I thought it was going to be Nevada Union, or possibly Lincoln. But Beyer came out and ran. They ran great on that Saturday session and it paid off. I’m happy for them.”

That the Patriots are in the big dance makes everything they put themselves through in the offseason worth it.

“A lot of the people probably thought that what we were doing over COVID and over the summer was a little crazy and a little outlandish,” said Nathanael Olsen. “It’s super rewarding to kind of prove that the steps and the process that we went through was worth it.”

Nathanael Olsen says he wants his team to finish in the top 12, but no matter, Eitelgeorge can feel confident that his team has very much earned everything they’ve accomplished this season.

“The No. 1 thing that we take confidence in is when we get on the starting line, we know we’re prepared,” he said. “And there might be teams that are more athletic than us, more inherently talented than us. But nobody’s worked harder and nobody’s as well prepared. And that takes us to a lot of the places that we want to be.”

Stanislaus District State Meet Qualifiers

Division

School

Athlete

Grade

Gender

Team/Individual

I

Modesto

Melissa Barajas

12

F

Individual

II

Pitman

Damian Garcia

12

M

Individual

II

Pitman

Efren Sanchez

12

M

Individual

III

Beyer

Tahbert Bui

12

M

Team

III

Beyer

Ryan Elias

11

M

Team

III

Beyer

Ylijah En

11

M

Team

III

Beyer

Gary Leteipa

12

M

Team

III

Beyer

Nathanael Olsen

11

M

Team

III

Beyer

Jackson Olsen

10

M

Team

III

Beyer

Carson Pratt

10

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Hannah Beth Norman

12

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Ava Calandro

9

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Angelica Elizondo

11

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Kassidy Fmura

11

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Haleigh Humble

12

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Audry Scott

9

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Karina Verduzco

11

F

Team

III

Oakdale

Simon Appel

12

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Caleb Cavanaugh

11

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Dax Daley

11

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Abner Gonzalez

10

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Nathan Luca

11

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Mason Olivera

10

M

Team

III

Oakdale

Jackson Olivera

10

M

Team

IV

Ripon

Annie Wild

11

F

Individual

V

Waterford

Evan Espinoza

12

M

Individual

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