The Sierra cross country team prides itself on being a family and having great discipline in both the classroom and on the trails, two important qualities that run strongly in Sierra captains Syra Austria and Julio Lopez's cultures.
Austria, who is Filipino, and Lopez, whose family is from El Salvador, represent two of seven different ethnicitys on the 14-person team. The Stallions also have runners that are African-American, Korean, Native American, Japanese and Caucasian.
Coach Mike Marty says this squad is not only his most diverse team in his six seasons at Sierra, but also its closest.
"We are a very diverse school, but this is a very special team. It is very unique," he said. "They bring with them their varied cultures and backgrounds. But even with that the team gets along very well."
Lopez said he cherishes the opportunity he has to learn from so many backgrounds at Sierra.
"Whenever I go for cross country meets or any type of sports event at school there is always that one group of people that sticks out," Lopez said. "But at Sierra, being around more people is kind of a blessing. You don't get to just learn about one group of people; you get to learn about multiple types at the same time."
Each runner on the Sierra cross country team brings something from their respective culture to the team. Food, of course, is a main topic of conversation for the teenagers.
"We all come from different backgrounds and cultures and it is fun learning about each other and getting to know where we came from and our background," Austria said.
Sierra's team stresses a family atmosphere; something Marty said comes partially from the leadership of Lopez. He brings a compassion for his teammates that Marty believes is representative of Lopez's background.
"He brings with him that family orientation from Latin America and El Salvador," Marty said. "He has brought the team together with his leadership, his enthusiasm."
Lopez agreed that his team is one big family.
"It is. It really is," Lopez said. "Over there (in El Salvador) most of the people have like big families. Here, cross country is how everybody comes together."
What impresses Marty even more than the chemistry of this year's team, however, is its success in the classroom. The runners are a disciplined group that are taking advanced-placement and college-level classes while competing. Five of the runners are ranked in the Top 10 of their respective classes and four Stallions are enrolled in AP calculus.
Austria, Sierra's girls' captain, is No. 1 in her senior class and she said she has grown since she moved to the United States from the Philippines when she was 8.
"Discipline is one of the big things in my family, learning how to keep pushing through," Austria said. "I apply that pretty much in school and sports because in cross country discipline is a big thing. You can't give up. You have to keep pushing yourself to get better."
That is exactly what Sierra does together.
They may be small and diverse, but Sierra is united as one.
"They help each other out," Marty concluded. "If one runner needs help they support him, whether it is cross country training or their academic studies. They treat each other as family and the camaraderie is high."