South Monterey County runners who attended last week’s Letter of Intent ceremony are: (back row, from left) Josh Riley, Daniel Correa, Esteban Deniz, Ricky Diaz III, Mario Avila and Daniel Pantoja; seated is Ashley Ochoa. (Michael Ramirez)

SALINAS VALLEY — Distance runners from Hartnell College and South Monterey County will be continuing to run and compete at universities in California and beyond after signing Letters of Intent.

Last Saturday at the Hartnell College gymnasium, Ashley Ochoa from Gonzales High School and Daniel Pantoja from Greenfield High School signed their Letters of Intent to Fresno State and St. Mary’s in Leavenworth, Kan., respectively.

Attending the June 10 event were the Ochoa and Pantoja families, Head Coach Chris Zepeda of Hartnell College, Coach Margie Daniels and Assistant Coach Michael Ramirez of Gonzales High, and Coach Angel Villagomez of Greenfield High, along with friends and teammates.

Ochoa placed second at the Community College State Meet in the women’s steeplechase this season, and Pantoja placed ninth in the State Meet men’s steeplechase this season.

Ochoa has accepted a walk-on spot, non-scholarship offer to Fresno State. She was All-American in cross country in 2022 and in track and field this past season.

Athletes from South Monterey County who signed with colleges earlier were Esteban Deniz, Ricky Diaz III, Daniel Correa and Josh Riley, all from King City.

Deniz will be attending Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colo. He won the State 1500 meter championship this year with a time of 3:51.01. The finish time placed Deniz third fastest on the Panther record board.

Diaz III placed 12th in the 1500 with a time of 4:14.98 and placed fifth in the 10,000 meters in a time of 32:31.99. He reached the State Meet for Hartnell in cross country and track and field. He signed with Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo.

Correa will join Pantoja at St. Mary’s. Riley ran on the Northern California champion Hartnell cross country team and will be running at UC Merced next season.

According to Coach Zepeda, the South Monterey County runners have been productive for the Hartnell Panthers for many years now.

“The first time our men’s team won the NorCal title in 2006, we had Jesus Camacho of King City,” Zepeda said. “A commonality in our winning teams is the contribution of our South County athletes who undergo extra obstacles to be student-athletes at Hartnell. Their resilience and enjoyment of the sport makes them some of the best competitors we have, but also in the state.”

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