Valdez hoping for big things in the stretch run

By: 
Yaneek Smith

Press Contributing Writer
sports@presspublications.com

Slowly but surely, Waite junior Elias Valdez has developed into one of the area’s best cross-country runners.
From the start of the regular season to the brink of the postseason, Valdez has steadily improved his time by a minute, going from 18:13.03 at the Eastwood Night Run — good for 40th place — to 17:13.97 at the Van Buren Black Knight Invitational — good for sixth place. He also ran a 17:15.21, finishing in second place, at the Fostoria Boosters Invite.
More recently, Valdez won the City League championship in 17:24.68 on a chilly, rainy day, besting the second-place runner by 1:16.45. His brother, Oscar, finished seventh overall in 19:49.07.
Grant Rayfield, who is the girls coach but works with the boys team, too, talked about Elias Valdez.
“He loves the fact that he got first place. He’s very humble about it, but you can see that he enjoys it. He just wants to improve every time, and that’s the name of the game,” Rayfield said. “This is my third year coaching him, but I’ve coached him for the fifth season (of track and cross country). He ran track as a freshman, then cross country as a sophomore and track as a sophomore and now cross country. He should be a four-year track runner and a three-year cross-country runner (when he graduates).
“He’s got the desire to do it, he wants to do well. He enjoys it, and he’s a coachable kid. He does what you ask him to do, and then some. He’s something special. I haven’t seen anything like him around in a long time.”
Valdez talked about his mindset when it comes to running and training.
“I just enjoy it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like it, but I find it peaceful when I run. I mainly just do my best at practice every day. I really don’t take any rest days. I might take a day or two off during the offseason. I stay in shape and have a good diet. I’m just a hard worker; everything I’ve mainly done was hard work. I don’t have talent; it’s just mainly hard work.
“My goals were to get a (personal record), be the City League champ, make it out of districts and run a sub 17:00.”
The first two goals have been attained and the other two are well within reach.
Dave Quiroga, coach of the boys team, talked about what he wants Valdez to do if he does qualify for regionals, where he’ll probably need to run a 16:35 or so to get to Columbus.
“Run out there, and don’t be scared to fail,” Quiroga said. “If you fail, you fail, but at least you get that experience.”
Perhaps Valdez’s greatest accomplishment came last spring when he won three titles at the CL Tournament in track and field. He won three events, the 800 meters in 2:09.01, the 1,600 in 8:01.49, and the 3,200 in 11:16.45, good enough to win co-MVP honors at the meet.
Quiroga talked about what he hopes to see out of Valdez in the future.
“He’s only been running since his freshman year of track and field. Prior to that, he never played on a sports team before. I took him home a lot from practice last year, and there were multiple conversations about him and being successful and working hard,” Quiroga said. “He started off running in 23 minutes. In cross country, it’s all about yourself and the work you put in, you don’t need a coach. It’s about putting your feet to the pavement. Last year, I think he finished in just over 18 minutes. I see him in the winter running in the snow. He runs all the time, he never takes breaks. He’s determined to be really good.”
Rayfield also gives credit to the rest of the Indians for their efforts: Oscar Valdez, Diego Torres, Angel Rodriguez, Jayden Dupois and Justin Luce.
“The one senior is Justin Luce. I have coached him for three years. He’s a good kid, a hard worker, he’s probably one of my favorites that I’ve coached,” said Rayfield. “Oscar is Elias’ brother — he pulled him in — and he said, ‘my brother could run.’ I think there’s a sibling rivalry that’s pushing him. We use that to push them, and they seem to enjoy that. They seem to work well together, they have a good rivalry going.
“Angel Rodriguez, he’s a sophomore. He’s got a lot of potential, he’s very quiet, and he’s slowly opening up, and he’s slowly learning how to run and pace himself the right way. He’s pushing himself outside of his comfort zone. We’re pushing him out of that, and he’s starting to understand why. Diego is a junior, he’s a good kid. He had to work after school and had a hard time making it to all of the practices.
“Jayden Dupois has had some injuries, and he had some lingering injuries from track season that were messing with him. This is his first year doing cross country, and we are pushing him outside of that comfort zone. He just had a hard time doing it, he’ll do well in track season and that will feed into the next cross-country season. They all work together, they have a brotherhood. They cheer for each other and push each other, they are like brothers. They’re all real proud of Elias and how he’s excelling.”

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