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With Saugus streak over, focus is future

Program looks to move on and mantain dynasty

Posted: December 1, 2013 8:31 p.m.
Updated: December 1, 2013 8:31 p.m.

Saugus' Amanda De Jesus, center, runs at the CIF Divison II Cross Coutnry Championship at Woodward Park on Saturday. Because of the program's streak of seven-straight titles, the Centurions girls team enters every season with weighty expectations. Saugus finished in second place in 2013.

 

The writing was on the wall all season for Saugus girls cross country.

One thing that won’t go on the wall this year is a state championship banner.

If you trace the season back to the beginning, there were enough signs to indicate this was the year that would halt the Saugus Centurions’ unprecedented streak of seven state title trophies in a row.

On Saturday at the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno, it was just barely ended when Saugus finished as the Division II runner-up to Simi Valley by a measly five-point margin.

“The season was so up and down,” said Saugus sophomore runner Ashley Heys. “We knew what it was like to lose and we just did not want that to happen, especially here at our last race.”

In some ways, second place seemed like a win for this team given the events that preceded Saturday.

“We didn’t win, girls,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas when he informed the team of the final result. It’s been a long time since he’s had to say those words.

There was hugging. There were smiles. But it was far from elation. It’s hard to imagine second place in state being considered a down year – only at Saugus.

There’s no feeling of victory for this team and also no invite to the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., which serves as the sport’s unofficial national championship. The last seven Saugus girls teams have participated in the event.

So what exactly kept Saugus from capturing eight in a row on Saturday?

At different points in the season, two of the Centurions’ top three runners – senior Abigail Frankian and junior Sabrina Janes – went down with injuries.

Though Janes came back to full strength by season’s end, Frankian never returned after tearing her plantar fascia on Sept. 26.

That same day, Janes was already sidelined with an injury. It resulted in a stunning second place finish behind Canyon at Foothill League meet No. 1.

That marked the first non-win for the Centurions at a league meet since 2005, the year before they won their first state title.

Though Janes returned to the lineup to help Saugus rally back to win league, Frankian’s absence was felt weeks later at the CIF-Southern Section finals on Nov. 23.

The Centurions finished sixth in the Division II race. The previous seven state title teams finished first six times and second once at the sectional finals.

Never anywhere near sixth.

That’s why Saugus wasn’t all that disappointed with improving to second place on Saturday.

“We had to do some soul searching,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. “You had to figure out – in this sport, a sport measured by seconds, the margin is so small, sixth place to second place might be five second a runner, might be 10 yards, whatever it is. And we just had to decide how much you really want to be in this sport and win. And they came through.”

Five of the seven Saugus runners who ran on Saturday had never competed at a sectional or state final before. Only No. 1 runner Samantha Ortega and No. 6 Darby LaPlant returned from the 2012 state championship team.

Junior Mackinzie Moncibais, who was Saugus’ No. 3 runner on Saturday, recalled the week in between sectional and state finals.

“I think it was really emotional. It was really stressful,” Moncibais said. “It was full of discussions about how bad do you want it? How bad do you want to hurt? D you guys even want this anymore?”

Fellow Saugus runner Amanda De Jesus said the team’s effort on Saturday was at least 10 times what it was the week before.

De Jesus is the only senior who will graduate in 2014. That leaves the rest of these girls with a common attitude of resolve.

The streak might be over, they say, but this era of Saugus dominance is very much alive.

Ortega said this was her first thought when she found out her team finished second on Saturday: “I really think we better come back next year and win and not just by a little,” the junior said. “We better take it by storm.”

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