Foothill XC favorites win league openers at Central Park

The West Ranch and Saugus teams compete at the start of the boys varsity race at Central Park on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

The West Ranch boys cross country team downplayed its performance in Thursday’s Foothill League opener, but it’s hard to overlook how impressive the Wildcats actually were.

West Ranch placed five runners in the top 10 en route to a 21-58 win over Saugus at Central Park.

Wildcat Preston Pope was the individual winner, clocking in at 15 minutes, 36 seconds on the 3-mile course, with two teammates close behind. Jack Arnold finished third (15:39.34) and Justin Sherfey fourth, at 15:44.

“We’re excited to live up to what we did last year,” Arnold said. “We’re just taking it day by day. We’re not looking forward to state yet. We’re just focused with competing in league.”

The Wildcats were coming off a fifth-place finish in the sweepstakes race at the Woodbridge Classic on Saturday in Norco, only trailing three out-of-state teams and the defending national champion Great Oak.

“We had a nice pace in the beginning of the race,” Pope said of Thursday. “We just have to work on staying together for the whole race. We’re happy we won but we know we have work to do.”

Timothy Sterkel placed sixth (15:56.22) and Michael Haggenmiller was seventh (15:59.47), rounding out the top-five runners for the Wildcats.

Saugus’ Boon Andrews finished second in 15:38.91 and Valencia’s Britain Reynolds took fifth at 15:50.81.

“It was really more about the team today and running with the pack,” Reynolds said. “I think I did alright. I’m waiting for league meets two and three to go for a top-three finish.”

Golden Valley’s Jaime Calderon and Jacob Acosta placed eighth (15:59.87) and 10th (16:06.46), respectively, and Canyon’s Andrew Mawhorter was ninth at 16:05.59.

The Saugus girls continued their league dominance with a 35-61 win over West Ranch. The Centurions placed four in the top 10 with Mariah Castillo and Kaylee Thompson taking the top two spots at 17:53.18 and 17:57.12, respectively.

“All the teams that have won the first league meet have won state,” said Centurion Abby Davis, who finished 15th (19:31.06). “The 2013 team didn’t win the first league meet and didn’t go on to win state. Coming out here and getting the win gives us confidence. This is a good first step.”

Savannah Sehenuk placed seventh (19:00.50), Victoria Hodge was 10th (19:11.53) and Davis rounded out the five scoring runners for Saugus.

“We know we have targets on our backs,” Thompson said. “We just have to continue to work hard and not worry about anybody else.”

Valencia freshman Hailey Kirsch clocked 18:20.50 to finish third in the first league race of her career.

“I’m definitely proud of my placement and how the rest of my team did,” Kirsch said. “I was excited to get my first league meet over with. I definitely felt good. It was fun.”

The Vikings scored 84 points to finish fourth, trailing Hart, which had 71 points.

Valencia’s Kristen Walker clocked 18:55.25 to place fourth, followed by West Ranch’s Sophia Hoelzel in fifth (18:55.75) and Hart’s Anely Avila (18:59.09) in sixth.

Golden Valley’s Aylin Gonzalez was eighth (19:03.03) and Hart’s Lucy Yoshioka finished ninth (19:05.84), rounding out the top 10.

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