PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Bear River looks to make presence known in PVL |

PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Bear River looks to make presence known in PVL

Bear River cross country team members compete at a Pioneer Valley League meet.
Elias Funez/ |

Race hard, race smart and race together.

That adaptation of an old Dean Smith quote is the philosophy Bear River cross country coach Kevin Vasquez imparts to his squad as they look to continue making strides as a team.

“I relate to that,” he said. “I think it sums up what it means to get a team engaged, working hard together, racing hard together and celebrating together.”

Now in his second year of his second stint at the helm of the cross country program, Vasquez said he likes the direction the team is headed and wants to see Bear River competing for league titles on a yearly basis.

“For this year, the goal is to take both the boys and girls varsity team on to sections,” he said. “For the future of the program, we want to win league championships. It’s been a really long time since Bear River won one.”

At the first Pioneer Valley League meet of the season, held at Colfax High School, Bear River’s boys team took second place behind Placer.

“We’re realistic that (Placer) is a hard team to beat in our world,” said Vasquez, who coached at Placer for three years before coming to Bear River. “But we will always have a focus to go after the green and gold.”


Leading the Bruins boys team is senior captain Camden Criesco, who placed sixth overall at the first PVL meet.

“It’s a privilege to lead the team as the men’s captain,” said Criesco. “We’re a good mix. We have Toran (Maronic) coming from football and kind of bringing that mentality, and we have some younger guys that are energetic and fun.”

Leading the girls team is senior captain Anna Larson, who placed fourth overall at the first PVL meet.

“They’re my captains and I go to them to keep the team focused,” said Vasquez. “Not only are they seniors and provide leadership, but from a competitive standpoint, they’re are our No. 1 runners.”

The Bruins boys team also has a strong senior runner in Jakob Berger, who placed 16th at the first PVL meet.


The third team captain is first year runner Toran Maronic, who joined the squad after finding out he would no longer be able to play football. Maronic suffered a Traumatic Brian Injury during a non-contact football clinic in June of 2016.

“It is one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever been through,” Maronic said of running cross country. “To be honest, as a football player, I would look at cross country and I didn’t have much respect for it. But coming out and doing it, doing a race, I mean, these kids are super human. They’re incredible athletes and I have such an admiration for them now.”

Having an athlete with a football background gives the Bruins a dynamic that few other teams have, said Vasquez.

“I’m excited that Toran came out. We have personalities from A-Z. I think this is an opportunity that no other cross country team has, because when has a football player chose to do cross country? Never. But here’s a kid that can longer play football, but chooses us. To take his personality as a football player and transition him into the world of cross country has been a gift for us.”

At the first PVL meet, Maronic was the seventh Bruin finisher and took 27th overall out of 60 total runners.


In addition to their senior leaders, the Bruins have a plethora of young talent that will serve as the program’s foundation going forward.

Sophomore’s Brekyn Vasquez and Grace Billingsley have both shown promise at the varsity level.

“We’ll look to them to be the core of our varsity group next year,” said Kevin Vasquez. “Getting this varsity experience will only help them going forward.”

Billingsley was the second Bruin to finish the girls race at the first PVL meet, taking 17th.

“I just really like the individual aspect of the sport,” said Billingsley, who also runs track and plays basketball. “It’s just you and running, and you get to push yourself and really determine the outcome. And, for me it’s really relaxing, where as other sports can be really intense and overwhelming at times.”

Freshmen Elaina Wargala and sophomore Grace McDaniel have also shown promise, placing 18th and 23rd individually at the varsity level at the first PVL meet.

Brekyn Vasquez raced varsity as a freshmen and in his first PVL meet this season took 17th.

“We just to get better as a team,” Brekyn Vasquez said. “All in all we’re just a big family. We’re dysfunctional sometimes, but we love each other in the end.”

In addition to Brekyn Vasquez, the boys varsity team also has young talent in sophomore Sean Cullers, freshmen Sean Huska and sophomore Jett Livingston.


The Bruins get back into competition Saturday at the Capital Cross Challenge in Sacramento. Bear River’s next PVL meet is set for Wednesday at the Gibson Ranch Course in Sacramento.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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