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Saugus girls face big uphill battle

Posted: November 25, 2013 10:58 p.m.
Updated: November 25, 2013 10:58 p.m.

Saugus junior Sabrina Janes, right, and teammate MacKenzie Moncibias compete in the CIF-Southern Section Division II championships on Saturday.

As the Simi Valley High girls cross country team was being crowned CIF champions on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College, the Saugus girls were finishing up their cool down jog.

It’s been a while since seven-time defending state champion Saugus was completely left out of an award’s ceremony at a major race like the CIF Southern Section finals.

The last time was 2004, when the team took 10th and failed to qualify for the state finals. That was long before the Saugus cross country legend began.

Now, it seems like the state champion streak is hanging from a thread.

The Centurions placed sixth place in the Division II race on Saturday, which was just good enough to make it to the CIF State Cross Country Championships this Saturday in Fresno.

“We have a chance to win, but I think it’s just as likely we’ll finish fifth or sixth again,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. “I think we’re in the running. In years past, we went in statistically as a favorite and that’s the difference. We’re not the favorite this year.”

Saugus has certainly faced doubts before of whether or not it could keep the record-breaking streak alive. But this week is different.

Six of Saugus’ seven state championships were also accompanied by section titles. The only other state title occurred in 2011 after Saugus was coming off a runner-up performance in the 2011 Southern Section finals.

Sixth place is a different story.

And another thing about those seven championship teams: none of them lost a Foothill League meet.

Saugus lost this year to Canyon at Foothill No. 1 on Sept. 26.

“Just because we know what has happened in the past, all the championships, all the teams that have won and come before us, it got into our heads and I think that’s what brought us down,” said Saugus junior runner Sabrina Janes. “When we lost our first race, it was a shock and I think that’s the problem. We cannot go into race thinking, ‘Oh, just because we have an ‘S’ on our chest, we’re going to win.’”

Janes was the Centurions’ No. 2 finisher in Saturday’s race by coming in at 30th in 18 minutes, 20 seconds.

Saturday marked Janes’ first career CIF cross country final. The same can be said for her teammates MacKenzie Moncibais, Ashley Heys, Jessica Ruiz and Megan Tuinstra, who were the team’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth finishers, respectively.

The only members of the team with experience at Southern Section and state finals are Samantha Ortega and Darby LaPlant, the team’s No. 1 and No. 7.

On top of that, Saugus is without senior Abigail Frankian, who was the team’s solid No. 2 returner from last year’s state championship team before she suffered a season-ending torn plantar in September.

After finishing third overall in the race Saturday while battling a cough, Ortega described what the team will have to do in Fresno to make it eight straight.

“Training wise, we’re going to have to grind down the gears,” the junior said. “Full lock down, training, sleeping correctly, eating right, icing, taking medicine if we’re sick, vitamins. All that so we can come out to the race and we can get on that line and we know we did everything possible to make sure that we have a good race Saturday.”

The Saugus girls will go into Saturday’s race as a long shot, but the Woodward Park in Fresno has proved to be a magical place for this team in the past.

“It’s definitely not over,” Janes said. “I know and I hope the other girls are thinking the same way I am. It’s not over until your last race. I believe we can do it. I believed from the very first second I started cross country that we can do it.”


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