Runners reach Southern Section pinnacle

Kaylee Thompson, second from right, and Mariah Castillo, right, take a commanding lead at the start of the varsity race at Central Park in Saugus on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Seven Foothill League cross country teams will be represented at the CIF-Southern Section cross country championships on Saturday at Riverside City Cross Country Course.

The Saugus, West Ranch, Valencia and Trinity boys teams each have earned a spot, while Saugus, West Ranch and Hart made it on the girls side.

The Division 2 Cents boys have made the state meet five of seven years, most recently missing the cut last year.

“We have aspirations of doing better, but things have to click,” said coach Rene Paragas. “We’re still a year away. Most of our guys are back next year. But if we get there and get good experience (it will help us) come back for a title run the following year.”

MORE: Saugus girls, West Ranch boys XC keep team titles

Saugus’ Koby Serrano and CJ Westenhofer rested during the prelims last Saturday to be ready for the weekend’s contest.

Paragas expects the Centurion girls, who have won eight CIF-SS titles in the past 10 years, to finish anywhere between first place and fourth place in the event, citing competition from Claremont, Canyon of Anaheim and San Marcos of Santa Barbara.

Teams that finish in the top seven of their division final Saturday advance to the state meet in Fresno on Nov. 26.

“We’re not dominating this year,” he said. “At least eight of the last ten years, we felt like we were the odds-on favorite to win. This year we’re the underdog and haven’t been ranked No. 1 since the first week of the season.”

Mackenna Park, who was projected to be a top-three runner, had a misdiagnosed injury earlier this year that kept her from running most of the season. She raced Saturday and is expected to run again this week.

“We feel we’re getting stronger every week,” Paragas said.

A Saugus runner is highlighted by a beam of light as the pack sticks together near the start of the Foothill League Cross Country Championships at Central Park on Thursday. Katharine Lotze/Signal
A Saugus runner is highlighted by a beam of light as the pack sticks together near the start of the Foothill League Cross Country Championships at Central Park on Thursday. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Centurion runners Mariah Castillo, Jakee Victoria and Abby Davis each rested during the prelims and will be ready for the championships.

The West Ranch boys had a strong showing in the prelims, finishing second in their Division 2 heat. Jack Arnold and Preston Pope both finished within the top five runners.

“The last six months of their hard work up to this moment (is paying off),” said Wildcats coach Sarah Soltani. “Hopefully we hit the podium. That’s the goal: to finish top three.”

Isaiah Seidman and Michael Haggenmiller rested last weekend, the latter of which is coming off of a minor ankle injury.

On the girls side, the West Ranch girls came into this season with little varsity experience and are excited for the opportunity to compete at the Division 2 championship level.

“They’ve come a long way from finishing fourth in league last year and coming in as an inexperienced group (this year),” Soltani said. “To go this far is probably the most spectacular part of this season.”

Sophia Hoelzel led the way for West Ranch at prelims, finishing seventh in the team’s heat.

Hart will also compete in Division 2. Anely Avila was the top finisher for the Indians last week as the team placed sixth in its heat.

The Valencia boys enter the Division 1 championship with each of their runners coming off of personal best times at prelims. Individual runner Hailey Kirsch will represent the Valencia girls.

Trinity will compete in Division 5 after finishing seventh in its heat. Elena Martinelli will compete for the girls as an individual.

A maximum of five individual finishers who are not members of qualifying teams and who finish in the first 20 places in their respective divisions will advance to the State Championships, according to the CIF-SS playoff bulletin.

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