With a passion for running and a strong coaching background, Sonja Mazaira is the new cross country coach at Yosemite High School.
Mazaira served as one of Ellen Peterson’s assistant coaches for the past two seasons. She takes over the program after Peterson’s 30-year reign as the cross country coach before retiring from a 40-year teaching career at YHS last year.
“Ellen had a long and very successful history with the Yosemite High cross country program that will always be remembered,” Mazaira said. “We will continue many of the traditions she began, as well as establishing a few new ones. I feel blessed to be able to take over the program. Runners are unique athletes and it is a pleasure to be able to train them and help them become stronger individually and as a team. I love this program and will work hard to continue its success.”
Peterson retired with 43 combined boys and girls league titles.
“We have 20 returning runners and nine new members on the team this year,” Mazaira said. “Our team may be smaller than in previous years, however, I believe they will do well. They are a great group to work with.”
The boys lost 12 and the girls four to graduation last spring.
The boys team finished second and the girls third in the North Sequoia League last year. At the Central Section D-III Championship meet last year, the girls team placed 12th and the boys placed 20th.
Mazaira, the mother of four children, has coached at YHS since she started teaching PE there in 1994. She was the head girls soccer coach for 11 years and the JV volleyball coach. She also coached varsity volleyball for three years, and has coached the throwers and distance runners in track and field under Walker Vaughn the past seven years.
There are 12 boys and 18 girls running this year, down from a total of 62 last year.
The team participated in its first meet of the season in Dinuba Aug. 27 and the coach said she was very pleased with how well everyone ran.
“Just about everyone had a personal best time at Dinuba,” Mazaira said.
The Badger boys team will lead by Isaac Rumohr, Russell Zelazo and Matthew Roberts.
According to Mazaira, Rumohr, a junior, is a strong runner and a charismatic team leader.
“Isaac always pushes himself to excel, and was one of our stronger runners last year as a sophomore,” Mazaira said.
Zelazo, also a junior, is currently the fastest runner of the team. He placed fifth at the NSL meet last year with a time of 17.54 on the 5K course at Fresno’s Woodward Park.
“Russell trains well and strives to be the best, and was also one of our strongest runners last year,” Mazaira said.
Roberts, a senior, is another persistent team member. “I never have to worry about Matthew letting us down,” Mazaira siad. “He is persistent and pushes himself to run the best he can not only in meets but in practices every day.”
Gabi Stegge, a junior who was last year’s girl’s MVP, is the quickest female runner on the team. She placed seventh at the NSL meet last year with a time of 21:54.
“Gabi was one of our strongest female team members last year and she continues to hold that place this year,” Mazaira said. “She always has a positive attitude and is a great role model for other runners on the team.”
Following closely behind Stegge is another junior, Rachel Mattis.
The coach calls Mattis a very determined, hard-working member of the team. Her sister Olivia received the coach’s award for the girls last year.
“Rachel consistently improves her race times and I’m looking forward to seeing her develop over the season,” Mazaira said.
Senior Hannah Scott has earned her spot in the top five girls on the team.
Scott has become a stronger runner over the past year and will help score points for her team this season.
“She’s a leader and strives to become a stronger runner,” Mazaira said.
Assistant coaches are Kim Lawhon, a YHS alumni and former Badger cross country runner, and Brad Stegge. Both bring an abundance of running knowledge to the program.
“I’m looking forward to this season and reaching many individual and team goals,” Mazaira concluded.
The team will participate in the Sanger Invitational at Avocado Lake on Sept. 16 and at the Mt. Whitney Douglas Rudolf Invitational at Visalia’s Mooney Grove Park Sept. 23.