The 2019 CIF-Southern Section cross-country season is already underway with several girls Foothill League teams making the CIF-SS/Ford Cross-Country Rankings ahead of today’s Foothill League Meet No. 1.
The Saugus girls team enters the meet as the highest-ranked team, earning the No. 2 ranking in Division 1 after finishing 2018 as the No. 5 ranked team in Division 2.
The Centurions return three All-SCV selections from a year ago in junior Julia Pearson and sophomores Isabella Duarte and Brooklyn Bendrat. Hannah Fredericks, Hailey Rutter and Danielle Salcedo also return as strong upperclassmen runners to defend the girls Foothill League title and capture their 14th straight.
“We have depth that’s for sure,” said Saugus coach Kevin Berns. “We are a deep team, but we are only as deep as we can be if we stay healthy. That’s with any team, if we continue to train hard and take it day-by-day, we will be fine.”
The girls team recorded top-5 finishes in each of the first three meets this season, including first place at the Palos Verdes Mini-Meet, second at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invite and a fourth-place finish at the BYU Autumn Classic held on Sept. 14.
The Wildcats girls team are currently ranked No. 8 in CIF-SS Division 1 and will be without All-SCV girls cross-country runner of the year from 2018, Alexis Fernandez, but return seniors Abigail Welch and Tracy Sterkel.
Welch recorded a third-place finish at the Fastback Invitational and Sterkel finished in 12th place.
Sophomore Hayden Washington and junior Jessamine Jin will also be forces to reckon with on the West Ranch girls team.
The Cowboys girls team enters the Foothill League season ranked No. 10 in Division 2, paced by senior Angelee Berganio, who is really coming into her true form lately after dealing with the flu to begin the season.
Chandler Bietsch, Kayla Young and Milca Osorio are also expected to make an impact throughout the season and into the postseason.
“These girls have definitely bonded since the beginning of summer,” said Canyon head coach George Velarde. “They are taking a lot of pride in the work that they have been putting in for the last seven months. They are out here supporting one another, cheering for one another and they understand that it takes the total team to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish.”
The Golden Valley girls team has two junior runners that will lead the Grizzlies this year in Jennifer Santiago and Joellen Bragasin. The pair finished inside the top 75 girls runners at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational, the former finished in 57th place and the latter in 68th place.
Valencia’s Hailey Kirsch returns for her senior year to defend her Foothill League title after being named the girls All-Foothill League runner a year ago. So far this year, Kirsch and the Vikings girls team ran to a 16th-place finish at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational as Kirsch paced the girls in 20th place and Sydney Makar followed in 59th.
The Indians girls team experienced a coaching change in the spring with Darren James joining the team and have already seen results this year as they finished 13th overall as a team at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational Division 1/2 race.
Girls runners Brielle Wiley and Grayce Garcia have changed their training patterns and now have some of the most consistent, continuous training patterns that they have ever experienced in their high school careers.
The Hart boys most experienced runner and 2018 All-SCV selection Jeremiah Rasmussen graduated leaving a very young, but talented team behind.
“We are just a very young team,” James said. “Our varsity is made up of four sophomores and three juniors so it’s a very young, talented group that is kind of learning what the process of training is like and we are trying to get them onto bigger stages so they understand what competing at that level means.”
Juniors Joseph Ahart and Jason Lucero along with sophomore Jaden Wiley all factor to be the top three Indians boys runners after the trio recorded ninth, 16th and 21st-place finishes at the Great Cow Run and earned the team a fourth-place finish.
They followed up the performance finishing as the runner-up as a team at Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational with Ahart coming in fourth, Lucero ninth and Wiley 11th place.
“We have all the potential in the world, but we just need to trust the process that we follow everyday in practice and I feel like we have done a good job of that,” James said. “We are young and are still learning what the training process of being a distance runner is all about.”
Last year’s dual-sport athlete Antonio Abrego has decided to take a step away from football to concentrate on a running career. At the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational Abrego ran his way to 65th place.
Grant Doughtery and Kevin Souza were not too far behind Abrego in 81st and 84th place to form a menacing top three boys runners.
Saugus boys runner Nick Serrano and Blake Gallardo, similar to the girls team, are just working hard. The pair began the year with top three finishes at the Palos Verdes Mini-Meet as Serrano finished second and Gallardo third.
At the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational, Serrano once again paced the boys in 10th place and Gallardo 26th.
“The harder we work, the better we are going to get, the more positive we stay and the further we are going to go,” Berns said. “ We are in the deepest league in California, especially on the boys side. It’s going to be hard for the boys this season.”
Valencia boys senior runner Andrew Armitage will lead the Vikings boys team into battle for the Foothill League season. Armitage was the only Vikings boys runner to place inside the top 60 runners at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational Boys Varsity Sundown Showdown race to guide the team to a 34th-place finish.
With Evan Bates and Isaiah Seidman off competing collegiately at Gonzaga University and at The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the 2019 West Ranch boys team turns to a trio of upperclassmen in junior Dylan Gatua along with seniors Hunter Romine and Brandon Arana.
At the Fastback Invitational the boys team finished fifth overall as Gatua and Romine led the Wildcats boys runners and finished in seventh and eighth place, and Arana in 40th.
The Canyon boys cross country team began the season with great success after Alfredo De Anda recorded two first-place finishes at the Hoka One-One 2 Mile Postal race and at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational, but have since run into some trouble and will be without him for the rest of the season.
“The day after he won Cool Breeze, (Freddie) broke his collarbone,” Velarde said. “He had surgery Friday and is out for the whole cross-country season. The season could have gone one or two ways, obviously this is a big hit, but we still have team goals and individual goals and it comes down to, the next man up.”
With De Anda out, junior Kyle Stevens takes over as the No. 1 boys runner and senior Frank Lofton provides consistency and leadership to the Cowboys team.
Stevens finished third at the Hoka One-One 2 Mile Postal race and Lofton in sixth place. The duo also recorded top 20 finishes at the Asics/Cool Breeze Invitational.
“Besides the varsity races, I’m always excited to see the freshman race,” Velarde said of Foothill League Meet No. 1. “They are brand new and are learning this whole thing called ‘cross-country’ and obviously it’s their first time running the course at Central Park.”
Foothill League Meet No. 1 gets underway at 3 p.m. today at Central Park.