FRESNO — For the first time in more than a decade, no Santa Clarita Valley team or athlete earned a title at the CIF State Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.
But you’d never know it listening to the coaches.
“Helluva performance, helluva performance,” Saugus coach Rene Paragas told his girls.
First-year West Ranch coach Sara Soltani almost fell over in excitement, said something about cake and ice cream and hugged anyone and everyone.
Her Wildcat boys, after all, posted the school’s highest-ever finish at state, taking third in Division 2.
The Saugus boys took sixth in the same race.
In the D2 girls race, the Centurions finished second to fall just short of a 10th title in the last 11 years. Claremont took first by 43 points.
Still, after narrowly advancing to state on a seventh-place tiebreaker at Southern Section finals and battling injury, illness and inexperience all season, Paragas praised his team’s fight.
“We always say the only meet that matters is the state championship,” Paragas said. “For them to bounce back and show determination is what makes the alumni proud.”
Mariah Castillo finished fifth (17 minutes, 34.4 seconds) to lead Saugus, with teammate Kaylee Thompson coming in eighth (17:44.2).
Centurion Jacqueline Cascione’s performance was especially crucial, too. She finished 27th.
Boon Andrews’ 21st-place finish (15:48.4) led the Saugus boys.
Jack Arnold took 10th (15:32.2) for West Ranch, followed by Preston Pope in 14th and Justin Sherfey in 37th. The Cats finished with 140 points, placing them behind first-place Claremont (97) and second-place Loyola (107).
This after West Ranch was “shocked” and disappointed by its Southern Section sixth-place finish, Soltani said earlier this week. No one more so, maybe, than Arnold, who took 70th place (15:48.7) at that race.
“That’s not what mattered,” Arnold said of last week. “Today is what mattered.”
Asked about Soltani’s impact in her first year at West Ranch after coming over from Golden Valley, Arnold praised her straight-shooting manner.
“She tells us the truth,” he said. “She doesn’t inflate our egos. She tells us things as they are.
“Going into the season, we felt strong and she said, ‘You guys should feel strong.’”
The Saugus girls felt they were getting stronger as the season progressed. Paragas, though, felt they got off to too slow of a start last week. Saturday, they started fast and nearly pulled off another title.
Saugus (1:32:22) scored 147 points. Claremont (1:32:24) scored 104.
“We didn’t want anybody to count us out,” Castillo said.
2013 is the only other year since 2006 that the Centurion girls haven’t won a state title. The Saugus boys, though, filled in the gap with a crown that year.
Saugus alumna Shannon Murakami won an individual state title in 2005.