"The ups and downs of this experience, it makes the success taste that much sweeter. It's been an experience to remember. I'm here to provide for my team as much as I can." - Gabe Abbes
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Doug Soles points to a story about Gabriel Abbes that helps describe the character his runner, also his team's captain, often exhibits on a daily basis at Great Oak.
"Gabe typifies the athlete every coach hopes to get," Soles said.
It was the one during Abbe's junior year, when, between an injury that sidelined him an entire year -- in both cross country and track -- he made a crucial decision: Don't feel sorry for yourself.
Injured athletes can often feel isolated from a team when they're not performing. Sometimes, those injuries can even impact athletes in various mental and physical ways.
But while Abbes was dealing with a stress fracture that soon turned into an achilles issue, he knew that he was still a captain. And all his life, he had felt like he had this innate ability to lead, to encourage others with positivity, to lift his brothers up around him.
He remembered this when he took a freshman, Cole Bauer, under his wing on this 100-plus member team with nationally-ranked runners. Like a seasoned coach, he started to build a bridge. Lift. Build. Show strength. Be a captain.
"Now (Cole's) he's a sophomore and running 16:45 and totally into it," Soles said. "The power you have in taking interest in a teammate, look at the difference you made."
The ultimate leader, right? Soles said there are many other examples, though, too many to count. Like this one, more recent:
Once Abbes was finally healthy this fall, he only took one recruiting visit, in between any big races. He didn't want his college decision to distract the team.
"I didn't see a logic to do visits before the state championships or NXN," he said.
Great Oak, ranked No. 1 nationally by MileSplit, has a realistic shot to win its sixth straight CIF Division I Championship, and, for the first time since 2015, could secure its second Nike Cross Nationals title in school history.
But it's stories like Abbes' that represent just what this team is fighting for in 2019.
"He has had a tough path," Soles said. "It's a good redemption tale."
Hundreds of athletes in high school, maybe thousands, get hurt every year. Abbes' particular ailment wasn't rare. But he did have to overcome some self-doubt, and he did have to understand what his idea of perfection meant.
Before his injury, everything had always gone to plan.
Abbes, who's Argentinian -- which means his family absolutely adores soccer -- gave up the sport he grew up playing in the ninth-grade to focus exclusively on running at Great Oak.
But he had success immediately, posting a time of 15:49.00 for 3-miles at Mt. SAC. As a sophomore, he made Great Oak's varsity and finished fifth at Roy Griak, 20th at Clovis and was a member of the Wolfpack's sixth-place NXN team, running a PR of 14:32.50 for 5K.
Soles said Abbes, and the freshmen Class of 2020, in particular, were the next in line to take Great Oak "to the promised land" - meaning an NXN title.
By 2018, Abbes was heading toward a massive junior season, one where recruiters could write in their notebooks about all the wonderful things he would achieve in cross country and track. He opened with his best ever performance at Woodbridge, a time of 14:17.50 that gave him an eighth-place finish.
But then, sometime in October, he couldn't ignore the nagging pain in his foot anymore. He finished a 13-mile run one day, then did hill sprints later. He got an X-Ray immediately after.
The doctor couldn't see the fracture forming in the second metatarsal of his right foot. It actually took four X-rays and two cortisone shots -- as he was training through it -- for a medical professional to notice the injury.
So Abbes had to cut his junior season short. He watched as Great Oak went on to grab their highest finish at NXN since 2015, posting a second-place performance.
"You go from being the top dog to you're not at practice," Soles said of Abbes. "You're cross training. And for someone like Gabe, who's a perfectionist, it's harder to get that when you're not out there.
"The injury was devastating to him and I know it was hard, but we all have setbacks and it's an opportunity to learn resiliency and to have a comeback."
Unfortunately, once Abbes did come back, the response he felt in his achilles one particular day while executing track repeats meant that he had to sit out an entire spring season. He ran two races that spring, though neither were near what he was capable of.
At that point, Abbes said, he really had to figure out his emotions.
"It was mentally tolling," he said. "I had to go to a sports psychiatrist to talk it out. But they said 'The guy who perseveres stays positive.' I knew I had to play that role."
The biggest difference maker? Patience.
Abbes may have had a year removed from performances in cross country or track, but by the time he was officially ready to get after it again, it was easy because it was all about the building stages. So he went to work in the summer and built a foundation. He put in the miles, gradually upping the pace and the workload.
By the start of the season, he was close to where he was as a sophomore.
"He tends to do really well with the mileage, the aerobic side of things," Soles said. "You give him a 10-mile run and he's comfortable with it. He runs 10 miles like it's nothing."
Abbes was only an eighth-grader the last time the Wolfpack won NXN. But he remembers it.
Along with a talented then-freshmen and now-senior class, which includes senior Chris Verdugo, he remembers making a pack with his teammates about chasing after that dream.
"We've tried to build everything around that group," Soles said.
Abbes leadership has been evident over that time. After NXN in 2018, for instance, he didn't waste time thinking about strategy.
"The first thing I did, after we got back in the hotel is I went to Coach Soles and we had a talk about how we could improve," he said. "All the little things."
Once back in Temecula, he started meeting with Soles in his office at Great Oak every week to talk about all things running: The team, training, development, etc.
"I'm always trying to lead by example and personality," Abbes said. "You need someone on any team to play that role. I've always felt mature and I've never been willing to sacrifice my running for other things. I've had full focus on that and education. When something goes bad, I try to fix it."
Abbes' senior season hasn't been perfect in terms of wins, but he would tell you that isn't his definition of perfect.
Perfection for Great Oak -- and this is especially true at the big meets -- means that on any given day someone is stepping up, whether it's Abbes or Verdugo or teammates Cole Yager or Christian Simone or Mateo Joseph.
The perfect definition of a team, in fact, is that you're running for someone other than yourself.
"We started understanding (recently) that this is bigger than ourselves," Abbes said. "This is a team effort. We have a reputation and we have to carry that through. We have to build this culture for our four years and hand it off. That's always been my goal."
First up is the CIF Division I State Championships. And then another shot at NXN.
"The ups and downs of this experience, it makes the success taste that much sweeter," Abbes said. "It's been an experience to remember. I'm here to provide for my team as much as I can. I'm 100-percent excited.
- 2018: Great Oak boys, 2nd, 114 points
- 2017: Great Oak boys, 6th, 207 points
- 2016: Great Oak boys, 6th, 224 points
- 2015: Great Oak boys, 1st, 114 points