Hillmen going the distance

Gomez, Vera contribute to one section champion and a runner-up in one season
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Placer High junior Gama Gomez is a bundle of unbridled energy, especially now that soccer season is over and his legs aren’t aching on a regular basis. Within a 24-hour blur, Gomez and Mauricio Vera experienced the thrill of the ultimate victory and the agony of a heartbreaking defeat earlier this month. Back on Nov. 11, Gomez raced to a 22nd-place finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships in Folsom, helping the Hillmen bring home the Division III championship. Just over 24 hours later he was blazing down the field for Placer in the section title soccer match. The Hillmen lost 1-0 to Natomas and Gomez’s infectious smile was absent for a short time. “It feels good having a section championship and we had a chance to get another one,” said Gomez, who clocked in with a time of 17 minutes, 14 seconds at the section championshps. “We wanted to get four banners (two league championships and two section championships). I think we were a little tired.” Now refreshed, Gomez and Vera are a part of a Placer cross country squad that is aiming for a top-10 finish at Saturday’s CIF State Championships in Clovis. It would be quite an accomplishment for a team that had its doubts at the section meet. “We knew it was going to be close and we got to the finish line and we thought we had lost,” junior Viktor Dorofeyev said. “Some of our guys were way back there, but they came back up. We found out we won and everyone was excited, in disbelief.” Coaches and teammates marveled at the way Gomez and Vera handled the rigors of competing in two sports that require tremendous stamina and mental focus. The two have played soccer for 10 years. But they caught the running bug just last spring when they were invited to join coach Rick Foley’s track team. They met cross country coach Randall Fee on the track and he introduced them to the trail. Despite some early setbacks, they emerged as key components to Placer’s section title run. Gomez showed up for his first cross country practice in a pair of Vans. “I went to the first practice and I didn’t think I was going to do very good,” Gomez said. “But I beat some people that I didn’t think I could. I surprised myself. In track season I ran a mile and that seemed like such a long run. Now it’s easy.” Vera wasn’t sure he’d be able to compete for Placer at all this fall. He was on schedule to graduate last spring until he found out that several credits from his former school in Arizona did not transfer to Placer. He returned to the Auburn campus, but wasn’t declared eligible to compete by the Sac-Joaquin Section until mid-September. Coach Randall Fee had suggested Vera serve as an assistant coach if he couldn’t compete for the Hillmen. But the coach was thrilled to welcome the senior to the team when he was cleared to run. “Coach Randall has been so supportive,” Vera said. “He’s a great coach.” The Hillmen had a solid lineup at the beginning of the season with sophomore Zach Stelzer alongside senior Christian Finkbeiner at the front. But Stelzer suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for more than a month and re-shuffled the Placer lineup. Shortly after that first run in his Vans, Gomez received a pair of running shoes from Fee and the junior has put them to good use. Gomez said he now feels like running is where his greatest talent lies. “Soccer is really fun. I would do anything to play soccer,” Gomez said. “But I think I have more natural gifts for running.” Vera plans to enjoy a little down time after this weekend. He juggled his two fall sports along with his studies and a part-time job at Chevy’s in Auburn. “It was tough to balance everything at the same time,” said Vera, who finished 45th at the section championships with a time of 17:49. “I didn’t have any spare time, even on the weekends.” Gomez isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He will race in the biggest meet of his life on Saturday. On Monday, Gomez will trade in his shorts and tank top for a singlet. He’s a scrappy 132-pound wrestler. “I like all sports,” he said. “I may not be the best at every one, but I try my best and always try to get better.”