It’s Saturday morning, and Kelsey Santisteban is waiting for the gun to fire. The junior is lined up behind the starting gates. The gun goes off — that’s her signal. The cluster of runners starts moving. Everybody’s panting and gasping for breath, trying to push her way to the front of the pack.
Santisteban does not need to worry about working her way through the crowd. She has already jumped ahead with an early lead and is increasing her speed as the race progresses.
The majority of the other runners are still completing their six thousand meters as Kelsey crosses the finish line and prepares to warm down.
“I call her the silent assassin,” says head coach Tony Sandoval. “You would think that this is some timid person, but boy, I’ll tell ya, that gun goes off, and she is just a beast.”
For the Bears, she’s been their rock, their ace, the reliable weapon Cal can always count on to put up a spectacular time. Now in her junior year and recently having placed 10th overall in the country, it’s clear that Santisteban has solidified herself as one of the best cross-country runners in the nation.
Santisteban has never fallen out of the top five spots in any of her races this season. It’s her approach to every meet that has impressed her teammates and coaches the most.
“She’s silently aggressive,” says assistant head coach Shayla Houlihan. “I call her the silent killer.”
Santisteban is more than just a fast runner. For the Bears, the star junior has taken on more of a leadership role this year, paving the way for her younger teammates.
“I just try to lead by example,” Santisteban says. “I kind of just try to show how to be serious in high-stress and important meets.”
Sports teams typically have a vocal leader as the heart and soul of the group — from former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ over-the-top pregame speeches to coach Eric Taylor in “Friday Night Lights” yelling “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
Santisteban opts for a much mellower approach.
Similar to her running, Santisteban prefers to keep things simple when she’s leading the Bears. When she’s competing, Santisteban does not waste a step, slow down or get distracted.
“She constantly is doing the right things. Eating the right things. Getting enough sleep. Doing the ancillary extra work that she needs to get done in order to be the best athlete that she can be,” Houlihan says. “Those things don’t go unnoticed by the rest of the team. (Her teammates) see what she’s doing. She’s a great leader for us in that sense where she really has it all going.”
In her three years of running for the Bears, Santisteban has already left a huge mark. She will serve as the backbone of Cal for two more years.
The eye-popping statistics will always be there. Santisteban has proven to be able to consistently contend for the first-place spot in every race she’s competed in. Now, she will look to elevate more than just her own performance. She’ll look to lead the entire team to new heights. But she’s going to do it her way.
“I think everyone has their own individual aspect of leadership,” Santisteban says as she prepares for another practice and another opportunity to show her teammates how it’s done.
How to do things in the way of the silent assassin.
Richard Lee covers cross country. Contact him at Contact him at [email protected].