Several cross country state title contenders to clash in Foothill League

Saugus High's Mariah Castillo runs in the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday. Photo by Leonard Coutin/For The Signal

Saugus cross country coach Rene Paragas said it best when describing just how close the race for the Foothills League boys cross country title could be.

“On a good day, you’re competing for a state championship,” said Paragas of a league that has five teams ranked in the top 16 of their division, per, “and on a bad day you’re fifth in the league.”

Amid both Foothill Leagues, which are slated to be close, though a little more top-heavy for the girls, Saugus’ boys team is ranked No. 1 in Division 2 while its girls team is ranked No. 2.

“We only returned two runners from last year’s (girls) team but we’re right where we want to be,” Paragas said. “We’re trying to keep that mentality of performing our best toward the end of the season. That’s where our preparation is at now.”

Saugus’ returners, Mariah Castillo and Jacqueline Cascione, both finished in the top 30 at the CIF state meet last year, with Castillo finishing No. 5 and Saugus finishing second as a team.

West Ranch’s Preston Pope competes in Div. 2 at CIF Southern Section Championships at RiversideCity Cross Country Course. Dan Watson /The Signal

With the Foothill League squads meeting for the first of three times Tuesday at Central Park, gamesmanship becomes more apparent.

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“I think the biggest difference with league play is the strategy involved,” West Ranch coach Sara Soltani said. “We’re going to hold back some of our best runners during league so they’re at their best when the postseason rolls around.”

For West Ranch, which won the boys Foothill League title last season, it starts with senior Preston Pope, who finished 14th at last year’s state meet amongst Division II runners. Isaiah Seidman also returns for the Wildcats, whose boys teams is ranked No. 6.

As for her girls team, which is ranked seventh, Soltani knows their work is cut out for them as Saugus finished second at last year’s state meet.

“I honestly believe (Saugus) has a shot at winning a state title this year,” Soltani said. “I think that kind of competition brings out the best of me as a coach and them as runners.”

Valencia’s boys team is coming off a trip to the CIF finals, but coach Leon Maldonado has the task of replacing 18 varsity runners between last year’s teams. Senior Britain Reynolds and sophomore Hailey Kirsch are set to lead the Vikings.

“We’re going to have to be smarter about when we race certain people than we have in the past,” Maldonado said. “But it’s going to be a great opportunity to see what our younger kids can do.”

Canyon’s boys team enters league at No. 7 in the Div. 2 polls and is returning Ethan Danforth and Patrick King, who finished sixth and ninth at last year’s league finals, respectively.

Hart’s girls team finished sixth at last year’s CIF preliminaries. Senior Lucy Yoshioka finished seventh at last year’s league finals while Sophia Pearson, Dhanya Rodrigo and Lindsey Jacobsson finished in the top 25.

Both of Golden Valley’s teams missed out on the postseason last year and the Grizzlies are led by junior Joseph Clemons and senior Aylin Gonzalez.

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