Saugus cross country coach Rene Paragas had always wanted to host a meet in the Santa Clarita Valley and partnering with The Master’s University on an event the Christian liberal arts school had hosted the last six years seemed like a win-win.
“Because they’ve run such a professional meet in the past, it seemed like a good partnership for us,” Paragas said.
As Master’s released its 2018 men’s and women’s cross country schedules over the weekend, the Sept. 29 home event at Central Park in Santa Clarita, organized in conjunction with Saugus, certainly looks to be a highlight.
Saugus will provide parent volunteers to help staff the event. Its clout as one of the state’s premier programs should also help it draw others to what’s become the largest combined high school and college cross country meet in SoCal.
All proceeds from the event’s high school entries will benefit Saugus’ program, which won a boys or girls state title every year from 2006 to 2015.
Last year, Saugus felt right at home at The Master’s University XC Invitational.
“We liked the setup, the venue, how it was run,” Paragas said. “Master’s wanted to grow its high school portion, so it seemed to fit both of our agendas.”
For Master’s, it’s an opportunity to expose more than a dozen high school teams to one of the NAIA’s best-kept secrets.
The Mustang men have won eight straight Golden State Athletic Conference titles and advanced to NAIA nationals 14 straight seasons. TMU’s women’s team won its first GSAC title in 2017 and has been to nationals six of the last seven years.
The September meet also allows high school runners a close-up look at programs from the NCAA Division 1, Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA ranks, along with community colleges.
“This truly is good for everyone involved,” said TMU coach Zach Schroeder.
Last year’s race featured runners from UCLA, UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge, among others. USC and Cal State Fullerton are among 21 schools that have already pledged to send athletes this year.
There will be six races in all: two collegiate races and four high school races. The men’s collegiate 8K will kick off the morning at 7:45 a.m. with the girls junior varsity race closing the day at 10:30 a.m.
Paragas said he had already invited a number of programs whose coaches he counts as friends. He said the plan was to focus on the quality of the event instead of the number of teams this year.
“If we want them to keep coming out, we have to have a quality product,” Paragas said. “So that’s one of the reasons we’re partnering with The Master’s.”
But, Paragas did leave the door wide open to expansion in the future.
“This isn’t just for us, this is for the city as well,” he said. “If this meet grows into a 100 or 200 school meet or if it grows into a Friday-Saturday (event), one of the pitching points is to try to have you make it a weekend where teams from far away come out and stay in Santa Clarita hotels, go to Magic Mountain. It becomes a traveling trip, and that’s good for the city, it’s good for everybody. But we’re starting small, obviously.”
For a more information and a coach’s packet, visit www.GoMustangs.com.