All-Empire boys cross country runner of the year: Matt Salazar


Cross country runners battle a variety of obstacles as they run for miles and fatigue is assumed as one of the most common.

Casa Grande’s Matt Salazar fought through his junior year battling through what he called heavy legs and the constant feeling of the energy draining from his body in the middle of the race — a condition later confirmed by a sports physician as Epstein-Barr virus.

“I would go into a warm-up and feel fine,” he said, “and then during the race I would feel tired and it wouldn’t go the way I wanted it to.”

The Epstein-Barr virus — commonly referred to as EBV — can cause infectious mononucleosis which carries symptoms of chronic fatigue and cold-like symptoms as well.

It was hard not racing to the standards that Salazar had set in his mind, he said, and he had his sights set on bigger goals.

Salazar wouldn’t quit, however. He led the Gauchos to a North Coast Section Division 2 championship with his second-place finish, and was a North Bay League all-league selection. He is the All-Empire Cross Country Boys Runner of the Year.

“I guess I did pick up several wins,” he said humbly about earning the All-Empire title. “Even being sick I raced pretty well, I think.”

The junior runner battled through his chronic fatigue in the state race in Fresno and didn’t hit the mark he wanted, he said.

“Sometimes your body will let you down even if the will is there,” said Casa Grande head coach Carl Triola.

Even with an outstanding season under his belt, he added, it wasn’t what Salazar had hoped for.

“The end of the season definitely didn’t go as he planned but he wouldn’t use that as an excuse,” Triola said.

With many goals still on the horizon for Salazar, training for his senior year and beyond has already started, he said.

“I keep working to get better on my biomechanics and every little thing,” he explained.

Salazar takes on his education and training in every spare minute of his free time, watching videos and learning more about how to keep his body healthy, he said.

“When this kid would come home after practice, he would do even more strengthening and stretching and icing,” said his mother, Vanessa. “Every dang day. He seriously never quit.”

Suffering through mono and later discovering the virus, Salazar has “always been behind the 8-ball during track season,” she said. “He’s doing everything in his power to get better and stronger, though.”

As a senior, Salazar knows the clock isn’t working in his favor for his final season in a Gauchos uniform, he said, and is already preparing for the next chapter.

“I worry about time a lot,” he said. “I want to stay 100-percent injury free this year.”

The ultimate goal for Salazar, he said, is attending Oregon State and everything is related to that.

There are many runners that didn’t make a name for them in high school or at a younger age, Salazar said, and yet they still became Olympians.

Salazar credits his teammate, Nick Rauch, for giving him the motivation to continue to compete, he said.

“I would always see things as something I needed to do in order to get back in front with him,” Salazar said, “and I’m really looking forward to getting back to training with him and the rest of the team.”

Rauch is a graduating senior. Next year it will be up to Salazar to lead the Casa Grande team against rival Maria Carrillo in its quest for a second NCS cross-country championship title.

“I have this drive that I just want to be the best,” Salazar said. “Ever since I first started running, I’ve always wanted to be this great runner.”

Press Democrat blogger Jim Crowhurst contributed to this report. Read his On Track blog at