It was a season of firsts for West Ranch cross-country, which saw both the boys and girls teams qualify for the CIF State Cross-Country Championships for the first time in program history. The West Ranch boys continue with another first by extending their postseason run after qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals held in Portland, Oregon on Saturday.
Placing second overall as a team in Division I at CIF State Cross-Country Championships, the boys team — comprised of Evan Bates, Isaiah Seidman, Dylan Gatua, Hunter Romine, Alexis Romero, Jonathan McDaniel and Brandon Arana — knew what they had to do early in the season.
“At the beginning of the year and in summer we knew we would have a good 1-2-3 and would be really strong in the front,” Seidman said. “But we didn’t know if we would have a fourth, a fifth and maybe even a sixth guy to really pull up the back because that’s what you really need to win a race.”
Unranked to begin the season, the Wildcats had to create something special that the whole team would buy into. A culture.
Spending countless numbers of hours with each other in and outside of practice, this group of seven developed a bond, a sense of belonging, a family.
“They are like my second family,” Bates said.
“We are more than just friends, we are a family,” Gatua said. “We are so together because we spend so many hours together and have created a bond like a family.”
Slowly moving up the CIF-SS Division I ranks throughout the year, the boys team fared well, taking home their fourth-straight Foothill League title in decisive fashion as four runners placed among the top six in the meet.
At CIF-Southern Section Finals, the team finished third, qualifying for the state meet, behind Great Oak and Dana Hills. It did not sit well with the team.
”We got our eyes opened up when we got third at CIF-SS Finals,” Bates said. “So we really had to get all the pieces aligned and the team focused to compete at state.”
“I think we needed that loss to prepare us for state,” Gatua said.
Regrouping and training even harder for the state meet, the Wildcats came back with a fierce passion, besting the CIF-SS finals finish with a second-place podium finish at state, handily beating third-place Dana Hills by registering a total team time of 1 hour, 17 minutes and five seconds compared to 1:18.28 by Dana Hills.
With the second-place finish, the Wildcats set a Santa Clarita Valley record by posting the fastest team time at a state meet in Santa Clarita history.
Bates led the way for the Wildcats finishing second in the Division I race. Seidman and Gatua came in fourth and 14th while Romine and Romero rounded out the top five finishers for West ranch coming in 18th and 49th place. McDaniel and Arana finished inside the top 150.
“Coming out of Southern Section Finals we wanted to beat Dana Hills so bad and going into he state meet that’s all we were focused on,” Seidman said. “All we wanted was to beat Dana Hills and we knew that’s all we had to do. Losing to them definitely gave us the drive to compete to our highest ability at the state meet.”
Putting their individual accomplishments to the side, the Wildcats worked as a unit and came together through the year to collectively work and win as a team.
“We have spent more time working together building those bonds at school in practice and outside of practice,” Bates said. “We were all on the same page and that’s why we were so successful. There were no clash of egos, it was all about the team instead of focusing on individual performances.”
Attributing much of their success to third-year head coach Sara Soltani, this year’s boys team still has one more race to tackle not as individuals, but as a family.
“Coach Sara set a standard. The standard has risen every single year,” Seidman said. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything so big in my life to qualify for nationals. I definitely think this will be the highlight of my high school career that I get to share with my family.”
The Wildcats have one more race to compete in as the team leaves for Portland later today, but have shown throughout the season that they are willing to work and work together to accomplish any goal for their West Ranch family.
“As the months progressed I was amazed at the connection that they had and I knew that that was going to give them the edge the entire season,” Soltani said. “Consistency and having athletes that are willing to put in the time is what gives teams an edge.”