Monday Cooldown: Pebble Hills seniors laying the foundation

Natalia Martinez Lopez

The Pebble Hills boys’ and girls’ cross country teams are having successful seasons.

The boys are ranked No. 4 and the girls are No. 3 in the El Paso Running Top 10.

Both squads are led by a pair of seniors – Natalia Martinez Lopez and Omer Ibrahim – who began to lay the foundation for success last fall.

Now, a year later, the boys and girls teams are realizing their potential.

“The teams are doing great,” Martinez Lopez said after posting a season best, 19:46.69 at Shawver Park on Sept. 10. “Both the guys and the girls have a great shot at regionals. We’ve been getting some great help from the freshman Audrey (Arsenault), she has really given us that step up that we needed.”

The Spartans have five runners with top 25 times including Natalie Franco (11,19:47.10), Martinez Lopez (12, 19:46.69), Arsenault (15h, 20:04.43), Carolina Zarrabal (19th, 20:28.43) and Sophia Santivanez (25th, 20:57.35).

“We all have progressed, especially Natalie, our junior, I’m really proud of her,” she said. “At practice, she is able to push me a lot more. We’ll continue to push each other throughout the season.”

Martinez Lopez was 10th at this weekend’sLubbock Invitational in the Class 6A Division and Arsenault was 19th.

Martinez Lopez said she is gaining confidence with every race.

“Last year I was really nervous,” she said. “Before every race, I had really bad anxiety. I doubted myself a lot. Track season really helped because it’s a shorter distance. Honestly, I prefer track over cross country. Track helped me learn how to cope with my nerves before a race. I’m still nervous, but not as nervous I was last year.”

Omer Ibrahim

Omer Ibrahim has been fighting nagging injuries in the early part of the cross country season.

First it was quad injury and then he strained his hip flexer.

“I still have knots but it’s getting better,” Ibrahim said after finishing second in 16:43.68 at the Ysleta Invitational at Shawver Park. “I’m doing acupuncture and all sorts of new things so that’s helped.”

There was a possibility of Ibrahim missing the cross country season if he did not heal properly.

“If my injuries continued my dad (and coach Bashar Ibrahim), told me I would have to sit out cross country and focus on track so I had a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot better, honestly, all I care about is to keep on running.”

Ibrahim finished sixth at the Lubbock Invitational in the Class 6A Division in 16:40.4.

Senior teammate Noah Castorena was 16th in 17:38.0.

“I’m going try my best in the next six weeks to get back to full health and hopefully I can be back to where I should be and get ready for district, regionals and hopefully state.”

The Spartans have three runners in the city’s Top 25 times list – Ibrahim at No.6 (15:56.70) senior Castorena at 13th (16:28.95) and sophomore Ameen Ibrahim at 14th (16:33.63).

“I’m extremely proud of them, they have improved so much from where they were last year,” he said of his teammates. “They are pushing themselves more so when me and Noah leave, the younger ones can step up. It will be nice to come back and see them after I leave and see how well they can hold their own. I believe they’ll have a strong team for years to come.”

Author: Victor R. Martinez

My love of running began with my son Deric. His passion and talent for distance running opened my eyes to a sport I never imaged I would embrace with such enthusiasm. As a journalist at the El Paso Times, I was the lead writer for cross country and track for several years and I was able to tell the stories of these amazing unsung athletes. Never a runner myself, I decided to change that when I turned 50 in 2016 when I trained for my first 5K. I've been running ever since and I love every minute of it - well - sort of.

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