Foothill League cross country runners were all over the leaderboards of the cross country state meet.
The West Ranch Wildcat boys’ team had the best team performance and won a Division 3 bronze medal by one point from the state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno last weekend.
The Saugus Centurion girls finished sixth overall in Division 1 and will return nearly their entire starting six next season.
Individuals Cynthia Herrera of Canyon and Sebastian Peraza of Saugus ran without their teams in Fresno but had standout performances. Herrera finished 16th overall, the best finish of all local girl racers, with an 18:27.8 finish in the unforgiving terrain.
Peraza had an outstanding day, finishing 10th overall in the boys Division 1 race, with a time of 15 minutes and 13.2 seconds. The Centurion’s performance was the fastest and highest finish of any local runner.
West Ranch coach Gerry Perez has unofficially changed his team’s name to the ‘”Wild pack” due to his runners’ pack-racing mentalities.
“After this season, we have a new nickname for the team, we’re now the ‘Wild pack,’” Perez said. “No matter how fast your one and two runners, these Wild Pack guys will run your third and fourth down. That’s where we get all the points.”
Senior Nicholas Raigosa was the first of five Wildcats to finish within 37 seconds of one another.
Raigosa crossed the finish line in 33rd place with a time of 15:55.6, just ahead of teammate and 35th overall runner Jonathan Valles, who finished in 15 minutes and 57.3 seconds.
Freshman Adrian Cantu finished his debut season with another impressive performance and crossed the finish line 63rd in 16 minutes and 19.1 seconds.
Tyler Halvorsen and Aiden Bodell then finished 76th and 77th, within about a second of another, respectively, with the former finishing in 16 minutes and 27 seconds.
West Ranch somehow managed to pull off the win over the Ponderosa Bruins, who picked off dozens of runners in the final 2 miles. Ponderosa sat in ninth place after the first mile but rocketed back into the race. Three Bruins finished before the first Wild pack runner but with the compactness of West Ranch, the Wildcats stole the day.
“This season has gone beyond my expectations,” Perez said. “I’m a very competitive person, but if you asked me a long time ago if in my second season that we could reach the podium at state, I’d say no.”
Saugus also had runners in packs throughout their sensational state meet. The Centurions, who raced just one senior, were led by sophomore Annika Mark. The sophomore battled the windy hills of Woodward and finished the race in 33rd place with a time of 18 minutes and 23.4 seconds. Mark was just ahead of fellow sophomore Lucia Pearson, who finished in 18:26.9 to earn 36th place.
Centurions Makenna Blum and Victoria Jamison then crossed 59th and 60th, respectively. Blum finished in 19 minutes and 3.7 seconds, a half-second in front of her teammate.
Saugus’ Giselle Ruiz also added a 20:05.3-second finish just ahead of Mikaila Whitman, who finished in 20 minutes and 15.6 seconds.
The performances were for the most part a pleasant surprise for Cents coach Kevin Berns.
“Annika ran 18:23 and Lucia, 18:27, that was quicker than I had thought,” Berns said. “They stepped it up. My senior Giselle, who hadn’t been running in four or five weeks, was our fifth score. She had a great workout on Tuesday and she stepped it up. We have what’s called the Saugus mile, which is the last mile of the course and that’s where typically we start to pick off runners and we did that again.”
The Centurion program made its return to the state meet for the first time in four years with a team full of 2024 returners.
“We’re always hungry for more,” Berns said. “Are we satisfied? Sure. Do we want more? Absolutely. It just makes you want to train harder during track season. We want to have our runners have a great track season to propel them into the next cross country season.”
For Saugus, the future is clearly bright, not that many would doubt the most historic program in the SCV. Berns will have five starters return to the team next season as well as some junior varsity runners ready to join the mix.
“We’re returning four sophomores next year and we have two freshmen that are ready to take on the roles that the seniors are leaving behind as well as what we think is a good group coming in from junior high,” Berns said. “It’s a good problem to have right now.”
For West Ranch, the CIF season ends but the Wild pack will head to Alabama to compete in the RunningLane Cross Country Championships.
Perez is excited to see his runners compete with some newer competition filled with mostly East Coast teams.
“They’re on cloud nine,” Perez said. “I believe we are one of two teams from California. We don’t know what the competition will look like with all the teams being East Coast teams.”
Most of the runners will prepare for the track and field season in spring, with the exception of Blum, who now rejoins Saugus girls’ soccer.
Perez, a second-year head coach, is proud of his runners for accomplishing what every team in the state aims for.
“It’s been a privilege to coach these boys,” Perez said. “These guys buy into the culture I brought. The game changer is a culture you bring to a program.”