No secrets to Saugus’ success

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Saugus cross-country essentially has a team in charge of the team.

Three years ago, Kevin Burns joined Rene Paragas, a passionate veteran cross-country coach on the Centurions coaching staff. This season, Burns has taken on an increased role alongside Paragas.

While Burns handles most of the administrative duties, Paragas develops training regiments and makes sure the team is functioning at a highly competitive level.

“Philosophically, it’s been amazing,” Burns said. “Our philosophies are the same, he’s easy to work with, we feed off each other’s strengths and that’s what makes it really easy to work with him.”

It’s hard to argue with the results of the coaching tandem. At this season’s Foothill League cross-country finals, the Centurions girls team won their 13th consecutive league title. On the boys side, the Cents came in second.

The girls were consistent with six runners finishing in the top nine. Julia Pearson came in third and Brooklyn Bendrat came in fourth.

But Saugus isn’t finished just yet.

“Whenever you start your season, the ultimate goal is a state championship and to be able to have the opportunity to run at Nike National, and that’s still our goal. We’re not going to shy away from that by any means.”

It’s a daily grind for the Centurions, and there’s always an open-book policy. Runners are communicative of how they’re feeling that day, and Paragas and Burns take that information into consideration when developing training plans.

Coaches run alongside the student-athletes, too, carefully listening to how they’re breathing and how their feet hit the pavement.

“What makes Rene so unique and so amazing is his ability to check in with every single athlete every single day,” said Burns. “We have 140 athletes and he’s taken the time before practice, when he’s breaking the athletes up into groups, he’s checking in with everybody every single day. It’s almost like a personalized training program.”

Last season, the Saugus girls cross-country team placed second at the CIF state meet and the boys placed third. Since 2005, the girls team has won first place at the state level on nine different occasions. The boys have placed third or better six different times.

Mariah Castillo headlined the girls team, reaching the Nike Cross Nationals and finishing third in the event. She’s now on the women’s cross-country roster at TCU.

This season, the family-like team reached the state level once again and the girls team finished sixth in the Division 2 race. Julia Pearson led the way in 12th place individually with a time of 18 minutes, 10.1 seconds.

“They’re absolutely amazing individuals,” Burns said. “We are truly a family and whenever you have an opportunity to work with your family you have a strong bond and it’s a bond that’s unbreakable and that’s what makes what we do so special.”

Saugus cross-country timeline

2006: Saugus girls cross-country wins its first CIF Division 1 state title, with Shannon Murakami finishing fourth individually.

2007: The Saugus girls win the Division 1 state title again and set a new state championship record time of 90 minutes, 49 seconds.

2008: Kaylin Mahoney wins the girls Division 2 state title and takes second at Nike Cross Nationals. Saugus wins the Division 1 team title.

2009: Mahoney wins the individual Division 2 and the Saugus girls win the team title.

2010-12: The Saugus girls team wins three consecutive CIF state team titles.

2013: The Saugus boys cross-country team wins its first state title in program history. The girls take second.

2014: The girls team gets back on track and wins another CIF state title in Mariah Castillo’s freshman year.

2015: The Saugus boys send individuals Ryan Tate and Jacob Crosson to the state level, while the girls wrap up first place in the state meet.

2016: The boys resume team action at the state level and win sixth place, while the girls win second.

2017: In their best finish since 2014, the Centurion boys win third at the CIF State Championships. The girls win second, with Castillo finishing second at the state race and placing third at the Nike Cross Nationals.

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