After a grueling and competitive three and a half hour dual meet between Saugus and Golden Valley at Saugus High School on Thursday, the two teams met in the middle of the field to celebrate together.
Saugus coach Kevin Berns spoke to the contingent of athletes first, and shook hands and embraced Golden Valley coach Jalonick Davis, who then shared a few words with the group.
Both coaches delivered a similar message: they were proud of their athletes and commended them for their hard work and mutual respect they have for one another.
“It’s amazing because there is just a genuine sportsmanship that we have between Saugus and Golden Valley, their coaches, they get it,” Davis said. “They know the struggles that we’ve had over the last few years with our program to just build it up and get respect. They’ve seen us from a distance and they’ve appreciated how we’ve developed our kids. They were always respectful to our kids and parents and helping out with the meets.
“I’ve always appreciated that. I’ve built personal relationships with some of their coaches and I’ve admired the prestige of their program, and I just wanted to gain that respect and prestige for our program here at Golden Valley as well.”
The Grizzlies certainly earned their stature on Thursday, with the varsity boys team clinching the Foothill League title with a 97-39 victory.
The Saugus varsity girls team did the same, clinching the Foothill League title by a tight margin, winning 70-66.
“It’s just amazing what the girls did, and all this week we’ve asked them to push themselves,” Saugus coach Momoko Russell said. “‘Push you to do something that you’ve never done before. We’re going to put you in three events, four events, maybe extra events that you’ve never done, but we want to see what you have and you are going to go get it,’ and they did go get it. It’s amazing that they stepped up for it because they wanted it.”
Throughout the competition, athletes from both teams celebrated each other’s victories and supported each other in defeat, giving words of encouragement and high-fiving one another, a rare sight to see.
They also pushed each other to perform to the best of their abilities.
“I figured it was going to be a great race, I had great competition with Zach (Turner) and I knew we were going to be able to push ourselves and break some barriers,” Golden Valley runner Samuel Malik said after winning the boys 400-meter with a time of 49.76 seconds. “It’s beautiful. PR’ing, pushing yourself to the limit. It’s boring in races where you don’t have any competition, but here, it’s fun.”
“I felt him the whole time, he was pushing me to go faster,” said Golden Valley runner Cameron Jacobs about competing against John Riley in the boys 110-meter hurdles, which Jacobs won by .11 seconds with a time of 16.03.
After Golden Valley sophomore Kienan Donovan took first place in the boys shot put with his last throw of 55-feet and 1-inch, Saugus throws coach Jeff Bennett came up to him and congratulated him, saying how fun it is to watch him throw.
“Track and field is a community. Everybody likes watching everybody throw,” said Golden Valley throws coach and Kienan’s father Kyle Donovan. “It’s a competition, but afterwards everyone always shakes hands.”
Golden Valley dominated on the varsity boys side, earning first place in all but one event, the discus throw, which Saugus senior Gaetano Ferrera won with a throw of 159-7.
“As far as the guys, we fell short just a little bit last year and we’ve been on a mission to alleviate this chip on our shoulder that we had from last season,” Davis said. “From the distance group to all the jumpers, to just filling holes and gaps that we needed over the year, it was a determination and steady grind from the summer. The day after State last year we got to our summer practice right when we got back. No rest, time to go.
“They bought into the new coaching, different coaching philosophies, and I’m just appreciative to be able to have them and grow with them.”
It was much closer on the girls side, with both teams trading first-place finishes in different events.
Three Saugus runners, Hannah Fredericks, Brooklyn Bendrat and Hailey Rutter, finished in the top three places in the girls 1600-meter.
Sophomore Iman Holmes won the girls 400-meter for Golden Valley with a time of 1:01.29 and freshman Tylar Gallien won the girls 100-meter at 12.48.
Saugus’ Julia Pearson, Fredericks and Dani Salcedo were the top three finishers in the girls 800-meter and Golden Valley sophomores Jasmyn Lewis and Delaney Sherwood took the top two places in the girls 300-meter hurdles with times of 47.15 and 49.40, respectively.
Gallien won her second event of the day in the girls 200-meter with a time of 25.62, with teammate Holmes coming in second at 26.92.
Bendrat, Rutter and Jacqueline Cascione finished in the top three spots in the girls 3200-meter with times of 11:32.25, 11:32.47 and 11:37.60, respectively.
“They are a young group and I believe we’ll be right back there next year at the end battling Saugus and the other teams in the league,” Davis said about his girls squad. “I’m proud of them, they laid it out there and we were without one of our best runners, Yleana Lopez, who had a family commitment. They matured and they grew and we know what we can do. The sky’s the limit, I’m very proud of the girls.”
Saugus freshman Kylee Davis won the girls high jump with a score of 5-2 and also won the girls long jump with a score of 17-7. Cassandra Ortiz won the girls triple jump (32-04.5) and Emma Rudolph took the top spot in the girls pole vault with a score of 11-0 for Golden Valley.
“I know for us we’ve won a lot of league titles in our program history, but doing track and field is always hard because it’s so many different things coming together,” said Saugus distance coach Rene Paragas. “So anytime you can get a share of a league title, we celebrate like it’s a state championship.”
Both schools will have the week off for Spring Break with the last league meet coming on Thursday, April 11. Saugus will face Hart on the road and Golden Valley will face West Ranch on the road.
Davis said his team will be ready to compete and look to close out the league season undefeated on the boys side, while also preparing for the postseason.
“Our first job was to beat Canyon, we did that last week. Then to win league and now we’re going after the division,” he said. “We want to win Division 2 and then see what happens after that. This boys group is very good and we believe we can make a great postseason run and were going to see what happens. I believe in this team.”
One thing is certain, while the Centurions will look to make a run of their own, they will be cheering just as hard for the Grizzlies.
“I’ve always had respect for Loni, he runs a great program. His kids are respectful and competitive, just amazing sportsmanship,” Russell said. “When we are able to mutually respect one another it just brings out the best in both programs. It’s amazing, that love that we can have for each other and for the sport. Bottom line, it’s just for the kids.”