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Canyon XC puts itself on the map

Posted: October 13, 2013 9:21 p.m.
Updated: October 13, 2013 9:21 p.m.

The Canyon girls cross country team has unexpectedly put together a tremendous season thus far, achieving a CIF-SS Division II ranking of No. 5.

 

Kindly excuse anyone for calling this year’s Canyon High girls cross country team a surprise.

Not even they knew exactly what they were capable of.

But in a perfect storm of events mixed with a lot of hard training, Canyon is tearing up the cross country scene locally and throughout Southern California.

It all started with the team’s stunning win at Foothill League No. 1 on Sept. 26 at Central Park, a victory that ended a 21 meet winning streak by the powerhouse Saugus girls.

“This is the hardest I’ve ever seen all of us work and a bunch of the girls, they’re all excited and it’s a confidence booster every time,” says Canyon’s No. 1 runner, senior Natalie Rodriguez.

She’s enjoying an outstanding season thus far, which includes her second-place individual finish at the league meet in 19 minutes, 49.34 seconds. The following two weekends, she backed it up with an individual victory at the Kenny Staub/John Barnes Invitational in Glendale and a second-place finish at the Santa Clarita Valley Invitational in Castaic.

Impressive for a girl who was vastly limited a year ago while she dealt with anemia.

She showed her potential as an elite runner as a sophomore and she’s showing it now that she’s back at full strength. Rodriguez and company came two seconds short of a school record team time in the Division I race at the Kenny Staub meet.

This is all coming from a team that finished fourth in league last year and entered this season relatively under the radar.

Now, Canyon is ranked fifth in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division and 21st in the state, according to PrepCalTrack.com

“I think it’s kind of because everyone’s completely in it,” says Canyon senior runner Rachel Rush, who was Canyon’s No. 5 finisher at the league meet and 14th overall. “Everyone decided to work their absolute hardest. I can’t say for past teams, but if everyone is like, ‘This is our life. We’re going to put everything we can into this,’ then we’ll be content when we do our absolute hardest.”

And on that afternoon a few weeks ago at Central Park, that’s all they did. And it all happened to come together.
In marched the Saugus girls, which were and still are ranked No. 2 in the state and coming off seven consecutive state championships to go along with seven years of utter dominance in the Foothill League.

It was fair to call Saugus an overwhelming favorite to win a 22nd straight league meet even with a key runner, Sabrina Janes, out with an injury.

Even longtime Canyon head coach Paul Broneer wouldn’t have bet on his team going in.

“We didn’t even think about wining the race,” Broneer says. “We just wanted to run our best race and compete.”

The strategy, Broneer said, was to target the also-talented West Ranch team with the hopes of finishing in second place or better.

It’s the “or better” part that was unexpected.

“Honestly, it’s like I was in a trance the whole time,” says Canyon senior Concepcion Flores, who was fifth overall and Canyon’s No. 2 finisher at the meet. “I wasn’t thinking. I was just running, competing. If there was someone in front of me, I’d want to chase after them.”

Like most members of this team, Flores took a unique path to get to this point. As a former Canyon cheerleader and a track and field runner since her freshman year, this is Flores’ first full cross country season.

The same can be said for junior Kyla Danforth, who finished sixth in the league meet just behind Flores. Danforth was a standout distance runner last spring in track and field and she’s a varsity soccer player at the school.

The cross country coaching staff convinced her to join the team this year, and she’s excelled.

Canyon’s fourth runner to take part in the win over Saugus was senior Shalyn Mabritto, the most experienced varsity runner in the lineup. She’s been right around the No. 3 or 4 varsity spot all four years of high school, and now she get to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

“When we heard we won (the league meet), we were like, ‘Wow this is awesome,’” Mabritto says. “We never thought we could ever do this. But (we can’t) let it get to our heads that we’re so much better than them.”

And Canyon adds depth with Samy Lopez and Lesley Gomez, who were the sixth and seventh runners that afternoon at Central Park.

This is a group that knows it still has a long way to go — two more league meets and potential CIF-Southern Section and state finals.

But as Canyon continues to gain momentum and swagger, it doesn’t appear much can stop it.

 

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