RIVERSIDE — With 400 meters left in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals Saturday morning, Canyon’s Ethan Danforth found himself bouncing between second and third place.
When he turned the corner for the last stretch of the three-mile race at Riverside Cross Country Course, finishing second or third was but a distant memory.
A late burst from Danforth (14 minutes, 50.2 seconds) put him out in front of Elias Opsahl (14:53.2) of Redlands East Valley to place first in the Division 2 finals. The Cowboys, along with the West Ranch and Saugus boys cross country teams, and Saugus girls team, are headed to the CIF State championships next week after finishing in the top seven of their respective races.
“I heard everybody cheering me on and I remember coach (Dave) Delong telling me to have no regrets, and I just kept playing that over-and-over in my head,” said Danforth, on the last 400 meters of the race. “I just laid it all out and finished strong.”
Saugus’ Mariah Castillo (16:28.4) took home second in the girls Division 2 race as the Centurions placed second as a team. Jacqueline Cascione (17:34.3) finished 11th, with Hannah Fredericks (18:25.7) in 27th place. The Centurions’ boys team finished second as well.
“Coming back as an individual, I obviously wanted to be first,” said Castillo, who improved on a 10th-place finish from last year’s finals. “But I have another week to train hard and get it, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
West Ranch’s Preston Pope (15:02.8) darted by teammate Isaiah Seidman (15:03.2) a few feet from the finish line to take fourth in the boys Division 2 race. Evan Bates (15:17.4) finished in 12th, helping the Wildcats to a third-place finish. The Wildcats’ girls team placed ninth, ending their season.
“The only goal today was to get to the state meet and we accomplished that with the boys,” said West Ranch coach Sara Soltani. “We also wanted to get a few guys on the podium and we got that as well. We’ve just got to focus now on putting it together for next week.”
The Saugus boys team didn’t have a runner finish in the top 20 but had four runners finish in the top 30, led by Albert Serrano in 25th place (15:32.6). Juan Enciso (15:3.9) and Jacob Kaufmann (15:36.0) finished 27th and 28th, respectively, with Boon Andrews (15:44.0) in 30th. Canyon’s Patrick King (15:41.0) was sandwiched between the Saugus runners in 29th place.
“They were feisty,” said Saugus coach Rene Paragas of his teams. “Both teams ran different races. The girls came out hard and went head-to-head while the boys team found itself in a hole early. But neither of them gave up.”
Valencia finished 14th in the boys Division 1 race and Britain Reynolds’ 18th-place finish (15:01.4) wasn’t enough to qualify for the state race as an individual. The Vikings were making their second straight appearance at the CIF-SS finals, which were the first two appearances in school history.
“This already was the fastest team we’ve ever had at Valencia,” said Vikings coach Leon Maldonado. “There are no disappointments today. To get to this point, you have to be one of the fastest teams in the state.”
Golden Valley’s boys team finished 12th in the Division 2 race, ending its season as well. Daniel Rush (15:28.3) led the Grizzlies with a 20th-place finish.
Saugus’ boys team advanced to the state race for the seventh time in the last nine seasons while the girls team has advanced every year since 2005. The West Ranch boys team advanced for the third season in a row.
The CIF State cross country championship will be held next Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.