South Monterey County graduates turned Hartnell College athletes (from left) Mario Avila, Ricky Diaz III, Ashley Ochoa, Esteban Deniz, Daniel Pantoja and Josh Riley celebrate after competing in the NorCal Community College Track and Field Championships on May 12. The women’s team took first, while the men’s team placed second. (Contributed)

SALINAS VALLEY — As high schoolers are gathering for the 2023 Central Coast Section (CCS) trials and finals, their college counterparts gathered for the Northern California Community College Track and Field Championships just last week on May 12. 

Hartnell College has, and always will be, a school full of athletes willing to go out and compete — and this squad sent up to NorCal was no different. The Panthers came out of that meet with a first-place win for the women, making it their fourth consecutive NorCal title (a first for all of JUCO NorCal), and the men’s team took second place (their first time placing at NorCal since 2017). 

Panthers Head Track and Field Coach Christopher Zepeda always says that “we are little Hartnell, but we have big hearts for the sport, which is why we win.”

This NorCal championship not only saw two team places, but also local South Monterey County graduates getting a chance to play on the big stage.

On the women’s side, there were Ashley Ochoa (Gonzales), Daisy Macias (King City) and Maria Garcia (Greenfield). Ochoa became Hartnell’s first-ever repeat NorCal Steeplechase champion last Friday, and also placed in the 1500/5K/10K helping score necessary points to keep the women in the lead. 

Freshman Bruin graduate Garcia placed eighth in the 10K, alongside Ochoa. This was her first NorCal meet — definitely look to see what she does next season in 2023 cross country and 2024 track and field.

King City graduate Macias competed in the 4x100m relay, 400m hurdles and high jump. She placed fourth with the Hartnell Women’s 4x100m relay team, fifth in the 400m hurdles, and like Ochoa and Garcia, contributed points to the overall score that allowed the women to secure a fourth consecutive NorCal win. 

Both Hartnell College men’s and women’s track and field teams gather after their respective wins. (Contributed)

On the men’s side, there were King City graduates Esteban Deniz, Ricardo (Ricky) Diaz III, Josh Riley and Mario Avila who teamed up with Greenfield graduate Daniel Pantoja. Pantoja did his part for the team in Steeplechase, where he secured second place, and also secured his second All-NorCal title. 

Across the 1500/5K/10K, the King City boys raked up some points. In the 10K/1500, Diaz and Riley placed in the top eight, getting not just two All-NorCal honors, but also added points to the overall score. Deniz contributed the most points to the overall team score with his first place in the 1500m and fourth place in the 5K.

Avila didn’t place, but as this was his first season back after a brief hiatus, he’s gotten a taste back for competition and will look to place at NorCal, like King City graduates before him.

In the end, it was a big meet — not just for Hartnell, but also for South County. 

“We may be small, but we got big hearts, just like Coach Zepeda said,” Riley said. “We’re proud to be South County and represent it on the big stage of college athletics.”

State-qualifying athletes Deniz, Diaz, Ochoa and Macias will head to state next week at Modesto.

Previous articleSalinas Valley News Briefs | May 19, 2023
Next articleWindow on the World Column | The Coronation and Other Important News


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here