Seven local cross country teams advanced to the CIF-Southern Section finals after qualifying from Saturday’s preliminaries held at Mt. San Antonio College.
The finals are scheduled to be held Saturday, back at Mt. San Antonio College, with the top seven teams in each division qualifying for the state meet. That is scheduled to be held on Nov. 26 at Woodland Park in Fresno.
In the boys’ races, West Ranch (Division 3), Hart and Saugus (both Division 2) qualified, while in the girls’ races, Saugus (Division 2), Canyon (Division 3), Castaic (Division 4) and Trinity (Division 5) all qualified.
Saugus saw both of its teams qualify after also claiming the Foothill League titles last month. This was just the latest item that the Centurions runners were able to check off their list of accomplishments for this year, and hopefully not the last, Saugus head coach Kevin Berns said.
“The objective at the beginning of the season was to win league,” Berns said. “The objective at prelims was to qualify for finals, and the objective at finals is to qualify for the state meet.”
The Saugus boys saw three runners place in the top 10 and another pick up a top-20 finish. Seniors Dion Gavin and Jacob Fredericks came in less than a second after each other, Gavin placing second at 15:36.90 and Fredericks coming in at 15:37.40 for third. Sophomore Sebastian Peraza was 10th at 15:54.40, while junior Lleyton Chan was 19th at 16:17.10.
Those boys will have to deal with a host of other top schools to qualify in Division 2, including Hart, which will be trying to get back to the state meet for the second year running.
The Indians’ boys got by with two top-10 finishes and another finishing just outside. Senior Owen Ahten was fifth at 15:22.30, followed by senior Paul Mangione in seventh at 15:31.20 and sophomore Eli Ahten in 11th at 16:02.30.
“Our culture is very, very strong,” Hart head coach Darren James said. “I’m really proud of the culture that the guys have built over the past, you know, since the pandemic, kind of coming out of it. So, we are very confident that we can make it to the state meet. It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to run our best race of the season. But we’re confident we can do it.”
West Ranch had five boys place in the top 20 of their heat. Senior Bille Issa placed first with a time of 15:48.10, followed by freshman Aiden Bodell in ninth at 16:39.00, junior Nicholas Raigosa in 13th at 16:45.90, junior Jonathan Valles in 14th at 16:46.00 and senior Jacob Bates in 20th at 17:01.50.
The Saugus girls will be the lone Foothill League team competing in Division 2. The Centurions saw freshman phenom Lucia Pearson take third at 18:40.40, followed by sophomore Makenna Blum in fourth at 18:51.30 and senior Ryan Vasquez in fifth at 18:59.60.
Berns said that most of the girls have run the course a couple of times now, which will only help for the finals on Saturday.
“Most of our girls have ran it twice,” Berns said. “We had a couple of girls that were running for the first time this year. Our freshmen, that’s only their second time on the course. In the sport of running, the more times you run a course, the more you can make your adjustments and, hopefully, run faster the following week.”
The Canyon girls made it out of Division 3 with Cynthia Herrera taking seventh (19:46.80), Isi Eichie taking eighth (19:59.20) and Alyssa Arriaga taking 13th (20:40.10).
Castaic’s girls had two girls place in the top 20, with Kassidy Vargas claiming 18th at 19:51.10 and Laura Bosque taking 19th, coming in just a tick after that.
The Trinity girls saw three top-20 finishes, with sophomore Bianey Carter placing eighth at 22:29.70, followed by senior Olivia Leathers in 16th (22:59.40) and sophomore Kalina Giacone in 17th (23:05.20).
Many teams from across the Southern Section were bothered by the sick bug at Saturday’s meet, and the Saugus runners were no exception. Berns is hoping that his runners can escape it prior to the finals and remove that extra barrier to qualifying for the state meet.
“That’s the other thing that could derail us making the state meet,” Berns said. “And it’s not COVID. It could be the flu, or it could be them getting sick, it’s windy. It could be a lot of different things.”
James didn’t see his runners being affected too much by sickness, though he’s aware that it’s always a possibility and has been bringing along another team of backups to Hart’s recent meets just in case.
“Knock on wood, we have not,” James said. “Whenever we go into the postseason, we bring along kind of a next varsity team that’s going to come up. So, we’ve got 14 guys out running with us, and we’ve seen some of that in the lower level. Thank goodness it hasn’t affected our top seven. Knock on wood, it doesn’t affect us this week, but we’ve been healthy so far.”
The first CIF-Southern Section finals race begins at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday at Mt. SAC.