The theme was “ugly Christmas sweater,” and Preston Pope took it to another level.
The West Ranch High cross country runner arrived for a photo shoot at The Signal offices earlier this month with a sweater made for two — featuring two arm holes and two head holes.
The article of clothing fit perfectly because Pope was being honored along with teammate Jack Arnold as co-All Santa Clarita Valley Boys Runner of the Year.
The duo pushed each other throughout the season and took turns leading the Wildcats on their way to a third-place finish at the CIF State Cross Country Championships, the program’s highest-ever finish.
“I think there is a lot of competition between us, very friendly competition,” Arnold says. “If he beats me or I beat him, I don’t think either of us is upset about it. We aren’t upset about it. We say, ‘Good job’ to each other because one of us ran faster on that day and that’s just how it’s going to be.”
For the first two Foothill League meets, that was Pope, a junior who only began running cross country the summer before his sophomore year.
Pope played basketball as a freshman at Hart but decided he was ready for a change in sport and scenery.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “I feel like basketball has definitely made me really mentally tough, and I think that’s huge for running. (First-year) coach Sara (Soltani) says I bring a different mentality to the team because I’m super competitive.”
Pope took 17th at state as a sophomore and then opened this season by taking first overall at the first two Foothill League meets.
Arnold, though, crossed the finish line first at the league finals, in a time of 16 minutes, 7.61 seconds (ahead of Pope’s 16:11.03).
It was back and forth from there.
Arnold was the first Wildcat to finish at CIF-Southern Section prelims, then Pope led the Cats at Southern Section finals.
It was a very disappointing day for Arnold. He took 70th overall and West Ranch barely advanced to state, earning the sixth of seven state CIF berths.
“I was upset for a few days — very upset,” Arnold says. “We all were with the sixth-place finish because we had finished so high the week before (at prelims).
“It made us all realize we can still screw up and there is still room to mess up and bring down all our hard work.”
The Cats put the day behind them. It may have been motivation, but the setback didn’t have long term effects on their confidence.
That’s how the team looked at the 2015 season, too. They were dissatisfied with a seventh-place finish at state, Pope says. But they put it in the rearview mirror and pressed on, with Pope and Arnold out front.
Those two challenged each other in practice, and aimed to finish ahead of each other at meets. But a loss to a teammate, they say, isn’t a loss. It’s — cliche or not — a gain for the team, with the biggest gain coming on Nov. 26 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Arnold finished 10th overall (15:32.2), Pope took 14th (15:39.8) and the Wildcats stepped onto the podium as the third-place team finisher in Division 2.
“Coming into this season, we had really high expectations for ourselves,” Pope says. “We were all upset about last season. We really wanted to come in and make a big statement early in the year, which we did at Woodbridge, and from there, we had really high expectations and we had to live up to them.”
All-SCV Boys Cross Country Team
Boon Andrews, Saugus, Junior
Andrews, a transfer from Geneva High in Illinois, finished 21st at state with a time of 15:48.4, helping Saugus to a sixth-place finish as a team in Division 2. Andrews’ best finish in the Foothill League came in Meet No. 1. He took second behind West Ranch’s Preston Pope. Andrews then took sixth at the second meet and fourth at league finals. He came in 23rd overall in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 final.
Juan Enciso, Saugus, Junior
Enciso was the Centurions’ second finisher at two of the three Foothill League meets, providing his best outing at No. 2 when he took ninth. His 58th-place finish at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals helped buoy Saugus, which finished seventh overall and almost missed a trip to state. The Cents didn’t miss the cut, though, as the top seven advance, and they made the most of it by taking sixth in Division 2. Enciso took 63rd at state.
Britain Reynolds, Valencia, Junior
Reynolds headlined a special group of athletes that led Valencia High to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 prelims for just the second time since the school opened in 1994. Reynolds steadily improved during Foothill League competition. He took fifth at meet No. 1, fourth at No. 2 and third at the league finals. He was the 27th-overall finisher at CIF-SS Division 1 finals, though the Vikings did not advance to state.
Isaiah Seidman, West Ranch, Sophomore
Seidman was a steady contributor for a West Ranch team that won its second straight Foothill League title this season. His best Foothill League finish came at meet No. 2 when he came in fifth with a time of 15:58.34. He took 10th place at league finals before finishing 37th at the CIF-SS Division 2 finals. That finish was crucial to the Wildcats narrowly advancing to the state finals, where they took third.
Justin Sherfey, West Ranch, Senior
If Sherfey is your third-best runner, you’re in very good shape. That was the case for the Foothill League champion Wildcats, who went on to finish third in the state for Division 2. Sherfey finished in the top 5 at all three Foothill League meets, coming in at No. 5 at league finals. He took 36th overall at the CIF-SS Championships and then came in 37th at the state finals. Sherfey wasn’t simply a role player. He was crucial.