Saugus Centurions girls and the Hart Indian boys cross country teams claimed Foothill League titles on Saturday at Central Park.
The Hart boys narrowly defeated West Ranch for the league title, as the Indians edged past the Wildcats by just three points in the Foothill League finals.
It was a sigh of relief and redemption for Hart junior Eli Ahten, who finished second overall at the 15:49.30-mark and was the first of five Indian runners in the top 13. Ahten was part of the 2022 team that lost the league championship last season by just two points.
“I felt like we did what we needed to win,” Ahten said. “I’m sure we could have won by more if we really wanted to. But at the end of the day, this was a business trip and we got what we needed to win.”
Nicholas Zamora finished just behind Ahten at 15:53.30 for Hart.
Saugus’ Sebastian Peraza finished first overall with a leading time of 15 minutes and 47.80 seconds.
The Centurion girls dominated the league finals for the second straight year. Saugus’ first six runners finished in the top eight, giving the team the league title by nearly 40 points.
Canyon’s Cynthia Herrera finished first overall with the gold medal time of 18:57.60, beating out a wave of Centurion runners.
Saugus was led by sophomore Annika Mark, who finished in 19 minutes and 7.60 seconds. 2022’s first place finisher Lucia Pearson finished just behind Mark with a 19:19.8-minute finish.
“I feel really good knowing the amount of work we’ve put in to get to this moment,” Mark said. “It was a great feeling to dominate that much.”
Makenna Blum, Sydney Kasahara, Victoria Jamison and Sophie Bryant all finished in the top eight and under 19 minutes and 50 seconds for Saugus. Jamison is the only senior of the young, talented group that came out and defended its league title.
“We went up against some good competition, but they’ve worked hard and they wanted this,” said Saugus coach Kevin Berns. “They wanted to defend their Foothill league title from last year and they did that. We train as a team, we run as a team. So when we finish six out of the top eight, it’s really not not a surprise if they finished that close together.”
Valencia’s Emily Farrell finished fifth overall with a time of 19:33.90.
Alison Orwin and Mazzlyn of West Ranch finished ninth and 10th, respectively, as both crossed the finish line right after the 20-minute mark.
On the boys’ side, Erick Leal finished fourth overall with a 16 minute, 3.20 second finish for Canyon.
Jonathan Valles was the first of six Wildcats to finish in the top 15 runners. Freshman Adrian Cantu crossed the finish line right behind Valles.
It was crystal clear how close the finish was going to be as the eighth place to 13th place runners were each one Indian runner tight behind a Wildcat.
West Ranch’s Nicholas Raigosa, Braulio Castillo and Aiden Bodell finished eighth, 10th and 12th, respectively. For Hart, Alejandro Cueto, Samuel Aina and Alireza Tofangdar finished ninth, 11th and 13th, respectively.
Canyon finished third overall just ahead of Saugus, giving both an automatic spot at the CIF preliminaries in two weeks. Five Cowboy runners finished in the top 22, with all finishing ahead of the 17:10-minute mark.
Back on the girls’ side, Canyon finished second overall ahead of the bronze Hart. The Indians’ third place finish in league puts the girls’ program back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
“Our girls program has really been rebuilding for the past few years,” said Hart coach Darren James. “We don’t have big numbers there but our girls team ended up finishing third today, they’re gonna advance to CIF for the first time since 2016. I don’t know if I could put my finger on a date when boys and girls from heart both went to CIF in the same year. It’s been a long time.”
Castaic’s girls will return to the playoffs after a fourth-place finish. The Coyotes were led by Kassidy Vargas, who completed Saturday’s final just under the 21-minute mark. Vargas was the first of four Coyote runners in the top 24.
Saugus’ girls dominated the day throughout each level’s outing as the top 10 runners in the junior varsity and the freshman races were Centurions.
“They all impress me every workout and every practice,” Berns said. “It’s truly not just the seven that raced today. It’s the JV team, the frosh/soph team. They make my job extremely difficult, because I have to put together 12 girls for the CIF team. That’s gonna be the most difficult decision I’ve had to make all season.”
For Mark, there was no time, PR or placement goals for the day.
“Honestly, I had no idea how well we’d do, or where the bar was set for today,” Mark said. “We just did such a great job overall.”
Qualifying teams will head into the CIF preliminaries in two weeks at Mt. San Antonio College.
“We need to stay focused and stay disciplined because it’s great to win, it’s awesome and It feels amazing, but at the end of the day today is nothing for tomorrow,” Ahten said. “Tomorrow is more important so we’ll celebrate it today but move on.”
Hart had been looking to take down its crosstown rival West Ranch for some time. However, now as league champs, the Indians move into the postseason with momentum.
“We’ve been chasing West Ranch all season long,” James said. “It’s great to have them as competition in our backyard. They make us better, but it’s nice to win once in a while.”
The Hart and West Ranch boys teams enter the CIF playoffs as the only locally ranked teams in the section. All teams have eyes on the state meet but know the mountain climb it’ll be to get to the meet in Clovis.
“We want to be a team that goes to s tate every year,” James said. “We want to put it in our schedule and know that we’re going to be there. So right now we’re trying to freshen up at the end of the season. We just need to stay healthy. We need to stay away from anybody who’s coughing or sneezing and wash our hands a lot. All the things we learned in 2020 to stay healthy. We’re on the right path and I think if we run like we did today, we’ll get to state.”
Saugus’ and Canyon’s girls also enter the postseason as the only ranked teams in the area.
Berns is another one of numerous coaches who believes if his team can just stay healthy, they can tear through the CIF postseason and make it to the state meet.
“Smart racing, staying healthy, and if we stay healthy, we can compete with any team in the Southern Section,” Berns said. “We can compete with any team in the state of California, but we have to stay healthy and we have to race well.”
Cross country teams return to action on Nov. 10 at Mt. SAC.