Saugus squares off against Castaic in friendly cross-country meet

Saugus High School varsity boys compete against each other as they run at Central Park in Saugus on Friday, 030521. Dan Watson/The Signal

Cross-country teams wound their way through the hills behind Central Park once again on Friday, as Saugus High School and Castaic High School squared off in what would be the first athletic event between two Santa Clarita Valley schools in close to a year.  

The track, which stands at exactly 3 miles of grass, dirt and hilly terrain, was first run by the freshman and sophomore boys from each school. The girls’ heat consisting of girls from both schools followed — and then the junior and senior boys’ and girls’ heats of Saugus, as Castaic does not yet have a junior or senior class.  

Friday’s races, as well as a pair of meets Saturday, won’t count toward a Foothill League title, but rather are considered “friendlies.” But Castaic High School cross-country head coach Meri Hunter said the races were about more than who won and who lost. 

Castaic High School cross-country runner Owen Elizondo-Bachero, 15, left, overtakes Saugus High School runner Gavin Dion, 15, for second place at the finish as they compete at Central Park in Saugus on Friday, 030521. Dan Watson/The Signal

Crossing the finish line first for Saugus was sophomore Jacob Fredricks, the only runner of the day during the heats for underclassmen to run a sub-17-minute race. 

“I made up a plan to go out relaxed and then kind of take dog park hill really hard and make a push, so I think that worked,” said Fredricks. “I also wanted to break 17 minutes, so that worked too.”  

Fredricks had run a 16:56.03, followed by Owen Elzondo-Bachiero of Castaic running a 18:00.38 and Gavin Dion running a 18:00.72 in what became a neck-and-neck race for second place.  

For the girls, Brianna Campell, a Saugus freshman, ran a similarly dominating race as Fredricks, completing her 3-mile run in 19:54.91. Sophomore Sophia Alvarez took second with a 20:51.66 and freshman Yaya Martinez of Castaic came in at 21:16.15.  

Castaic High School cross-country runners pin on their teammates numbers before they compete against Saugus High School at Central Park in Saugus on Friday, 030521. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It felt good,” said Campell, who said she plans to run in the 1,600-meter and 800-meter when track and field starts back up in a couple days. She said she had been working out with both the team and on her own, but her training since she was 6 years old had also come into play on Friday.  

“It was hot, but it felt good,” said Kassidy Vargas, a Castaic freshman who had run a 23:01.56 and came in fifth place. “We started coming together as a team the last month and a half, and the rest of the time I was running alone … it’s great because I missed them.” 

For the boys races Blake Gallardo came in first against his teammates with a 16.11.97, Aidan Soto ran a 17:07.78 for second and Daniel Velikorodnyy ran a 17.46.97 for third. For the girls varsity, Isabella Duarte ran a 17:48.00 for first, Hannah Fredericks ran a 18:24.00 for second and Julia Pearson ran a 20:17.97.  

Castaic High School cross-country coach Meri Hunter gives last-minute instructions to the runners at the starting line before their race against Saugus High School at Central Park in Saugus on Friday, 030521. Dan Watson/The Signal

“This is a dual meet, and that kind of takes away from us all being together as a Foothill League, which is what cross country is all about: You get seven schools together; but now we have to do it this way,” said Saugus Coach Kevin Berns. “But these kids get to race. Some of our seniors, like Hannah Fredricks, who is defending a title from 2019, got to come out here and wear Saugus one more time.” 

Hunter looked at Friday’s event as an opportunity for her young team to grow together from the experience.  

“It’s been really good for them because they’re not in normal school right now, and this made it to where we were kind of bonding a little bit more,” said Hunter. “It’s good for overall mental and physical health. It’s very beneficial for them.”  

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