Shortly after Saturday’s CIF State cross-country championships, Saugus’ Boon Andrews was pretty sure the team had earned a trip to the podium with a third-place finish.
The public address announcer at Woodward Park in Fresno had said as much after the race.
With the results unofficial, though, Andrews held off on a celebration.
“I thought they made a mistake,” he said.
Andrews’ caution was certainly warranted, but it wasn’t a mistake. The Centurions, who entered the race seeded seventh and one of the few teams in attendance without a league title to its credit, did indeed finish third in the Division 2 race.
Saugus coach Rene Paragas, who’s led the program since 2004, couldn’t think of a bigger surprise in his tenure, considering the stage it came on.
“All the other surprises seem like small potatoes compared to this one because of where we were able to do it,” said Paragas, who also helped lead the girls team to a second-place finish.
How exactly were the Centurions able to pull it off, though?
For starters, it helps to have a coach who’s brought at least one Saugus team to the state championships each year since 2005. The boys team last won a state title in 2013, with its latest top-three finish coming the following year.
“(Paragas) always tell us, the biggest mistake you can make is in the first mile,” said junior Jacob Kaufmann. “People want to go all-out early because it’s the biggest race of the year. But the second mile is where you really start to hurt.”
Paragas’ wisdom was noted, but the Cents still came out firing.
“I realized after the first mile we might be onto something,” said Andrews, who led Saugus runners with a 24th-place finish. “(Paragas) had a goal pace for us after the first mile. When I got to the mile marker, I was kind of freaked out because we were going way faster than I thought.”
Unlike most teams, Saugus doesn’t have a prototypical front runner. Andrews finished 24th but Collin Werth, who finished fifth on the team, was not too far behind in 54th place. With just 20 points separating the Centurions and fourth-place Claremont, his finish was essentially as valuable as Andrews’.
“The last half mile, I was still able to see all my teammates,” Werth said. “I don’t think I would’ve finished as high as I did without being able to actually see them and trying to catch them.”
Saugus also had the distinct advantage of competing in the Foothill League, which had three teams finish in the top seven in the Division 2 race. The substantial hills at Central Park were a solid precursor of what was to come at Woodward Park in Fresno as well.
“Our team always seems to do better in the worst conditions,” said Kaufmann, who finished in 45th place. “Woodward Park was the best possible course for us.”
Senior Juan Enciso finished second on the team in 36th place, with Albert Serrano in 42nd place. By topping Claremont, the Cents were the highest-placing Southern Section team after finishing second to them in the section finals a week before.
Enciso stopped in his tracks once he finished the race in order to hear the announcer go over the results. Once he heard Saugus had finished third, he wrapped Andrews in a hug, who was still waiting a few minutes to confirm the results.
Eventually, the celebration was on.
“I just kept telling (Andrews), ‘We did it!’” Enciso said. “With all the struggles we had earlier, not winning league and everything, nobody expected us to get to that point. I think it meant more to accomplish it that way.