The Foothill League will be well-represented at the 2023 CIF cross country state meet as the Saugus Centurion girls, West Ranch boys and numerous individuals ran strong performances at the CIF Southern Section Finals on Saturday.
West Ranch’s boys finished second overall in Division 2, while the lady Centurions earned a bronze medal in Division 1 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.
The Wildcats boasted five runners in the top 35, including senior Jonathan Valles, who led West Ranch with his 17th-place, 15:04.2-minute finish. Nicholas Raigosa just trailed and crossed the finish line 21st in 15 minutes, 7.6 seconds. The two were crucial in the Wildcats’ return to state and the boys’ program’s first-ever podium finish at the CIF finals.
Saugus’ young team full of standout runners all punched their tickets to the state meet. Sophomore Lucia Pearson finished the race in 17th place with a time of 17:11.9. Just behind Pearson was fellow sophomore Annika Mark, who crossed the finish line in 17 minutes, 27.8 seconds for a 21st-place finish.
“Everything went according to plan,” Saugus coach Kevin Berns said in a phone interview. “The goal from the beginning was state and we’ve reached that. They’ve grinded every day to get here. Our team is full of competitors and they work hard every single day. They are hungry and motivated.”
Makenna Blum and senior Victoria Jamison also snagged crucial points for Saugus, as the two finished in 18:01.6 and 18:07, respectively.
Blum was clutch in the final stretch and ran down four runners in the final 100 meters. Centurion sophomore Mikaila Mikaila Whitman also found a new gear during the end of the race, and passed seven runners in the final mile. Whitman finished in 18:44.9.
Runners had been preparing for the infamous Mt. SAC track but, with showers expected, all races were swapped to the rain course. The CIF made the announcement on Friday morning to switch but Bern’s team was ready for anything.
“You have to be ready for whatever preparation or scenario,” Berns said. “Big teams are ready for any situation … The course was fast and flat. We have runners that excel on those types of courses and they did exactly that. They took advantage of the course.”
In Division 3, Foothill League individual champion Cynthia Herrera of Canyon finished eighth overall with her 17:25.5 race. Herrera will represent Canyon and race at the state competition individually.
Back on the boys’ side, it was West Ranch’s underclassmen who clinched the crucial points for the silver medal. Freshman Adrian Cantu was third of five Wildcats to finish within 24 seconds of one another, after his 15.16.7, 24th-place performance. Cantu narrowly beat out Canyon’s Erick Leal, who led the Cowboys, finishing just 0.2 seconds behind the Wildcat freshman.
Canyon seniors Nathan Parras and Anthony Alcaron Vides also ran strong races, each finishing before the 15:40-mark.
Sophomores Aiden Bodell and Tyler Halvorsen rounded out the silver-medal day as both finished before the 15:30-minute mark.
Halvorsen and Cantu collectively picked up 13 points in the final 150 meters after the two ran down as many runners to close out the championship. The impressive finish was needed but more than enough to beat out Santa Margarita for the CIF runner-up plaque.
Perez and the Cats have been blessed with a healthy season.
“My one big goal as a coach is to keep the boys healthy,” Perez said. “Which means I’ll have all the boys available when the team needs them. It’s a lux that every coach wants. All of my seven, plus alternates, are healthy, but I’m knocking on wood right now.”
The Cats’ future looked uncertain this season after graduating star distance runner Bille Issa. Second-year head coach Gerry Perez made it his mission to show his team they were still capable of competing with the best in the state.
“Our end goal was to qualify for state,” Perez said. “Last year, we had our superstar Bille Issa, but after losing him I wanted to prove to the boys that even though we didn’t have the elite runner at the top, that we could still come together and make it back to state.”
Hart’s Eli Ahten and Saugus’ Sebastian Peraza will also return to the state meet. Ahten led the Indians after ending the race in 15 minutes and 40.4 seconds for a 15th-place finish in Division 2. Peraza was the sole Centurion boy to make it out of prelims and finished the Division 3 race in 14 minutes, 33.8 seconds.
Indians sophomore Nicolas Zamora finished just 0.9 seconds short of a state berth with his time of 14:47.3.
Berns is excited to see what his team can do at state. The team has handled big pressure moments well all season and will now have their chance to shine in the state’s brightest light.
“They’re all first timers to state and that’s why it was important for us. We’re a very young team,” Berns said. “We’re ready to compete. We want to be a really competitive team but whatever happens, happens. You go into every single race and race as fast as your training allows you and not do anything outside of what you are trained to do.”
Runners and coaches will head up to Woodward Park in Fresno this week before the state meet begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m.
Tons of local talented runners will take the course in Fresno for perhaps the first and last times. However, with so many underclassmen making the cut and dominating at the CIF finals, there may be many more state meet races for some Foothill League stars.
“I am really proud of these guys,” Perez said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of what these boys can do for the next couple of years.”