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Teams look to cash in on return trips

Saugus girls cross country goes for fourth straight CIF state title

Posted: November 25, 2009 9:41 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Saugus' Kaylin Mahoney, center, runs at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College. Mahoney and the Centurions are going for their fourth consecutive CIF state title on Saturday in Fresno.

 
Winning three consecutive CIF state championships in girls cross country is certainly a tremendous accomplishment.

But surprisingly enough, it's not that rare.

Saugus is one of seven different schools that have won three straight girls titles since the first CIF State Cross Country Championship meet in 1987.

Winning a fourth straight title has been a different story.

How many teams have done it?

Try none.

Who might pull it off this weekend?

Try Saugus.

Fresh off their fourth consecutive CIF-Southern Section championship, the Centurions will descend upon Fresno's Woodward Park this weekend in search of history.

CIF-SS Division II rival Mira Costa figures to provide a stiff test. The Mustangs finished just eight points behind Saugus last weekend and return all but one of their 2008 state runners.

"In my opinion, it's just Mira Costa and us," said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. "Since we're getting our five in before everyone starts their No. 2 runner, it's basically a dual meet."

Saugus' group includes junior Kaylin Mahoney, the defending CIF State Division II individual champion, and the trio of senior Amber Murakami, junior Stephanie Bulder and sophomore Karis Frankian, each of whom finished in the top 17 at last year's state meet.

But Paragas said that Bulder came down with the flu over the weekend, and Frankian was also held out of team runs early this week.

That means juniors Danielle Hernando, Merissa Kado and Nicole Penick, Saugus' other three state meet entries, have to step up.

"It's much different for them," he said. "Everyone else has never won (a state meet). It's a young team that's never been put in that situation before. We're going to lose if someone doesn't step up, period."

For the first time since 1998, the Saugus boys will be a part of the state-meet party.

After narrowly missing the state meet last fall, Saugus left no doubt last weekend by finishing fourth overall.

Now, the young Centurions will be ready but relaxed for the state meet.

"We put no limits on it," Paragas said. "We're not trying to race any team in particular. We're trying to run the best race we can. Wherever that leaves us, it's where it leaves us."

All of Saugus' state meet entries are juniors except senior Alec Nelson, who is finally rounding into form after a foot injury.

The group also includes Robert Pion, Logan Smith, Alex Ruther, A.J. Hebert, Alan Gately and T.J. Preciado.

They ran what Paragas called the race of their lives at last weekend's sectional finals, a wave he said they're still riding.

Following years of success in the Foothill League but coming up short in the postseason, these Cents broke through.

"It's very fulfilling," Paragas said. "For me as a coach, it's my job to make that happen. I can't tell you I all of a sudden changed something. They did it mentally."

Two-time defending CIF State Div. II champion Loyola returns to Woodward Park with defending individual champion Elias Gedyon, while 2008 third-place finisher Mountain View is headed back as well.

CIF-SS Div. II champion Glendora and runner-up Valencia of Placentia also figure to compete for the state title.

So does Canyon.

The Cowboys' streak of making the postseason ended in 2008, but the 2009 boys have picked right back up by finishing sixth at last week's sectional finals.

"I think a lot of teams do well in the finals, and when it comes to state they don't do well," said Canyon head coach Paul Broneer. "They're on such a big high to make it. I think fourth is within our reach if everyone does their job."

Saugus, Claremont and Loyola are the primary teams standing in Canyon's way.

Junior Sam Willis will give the Cowboys a huge boost if he fully recovers from an illness that has affected him the last couple of weeks.

Senior Tommy McGuan led Canyon's charge by finishing sixth overall at the sectional finals, and the senior-laden lineup also includes Mason Bouchet, Chris Low, Michel Noris and Tyler Tockstein.

Junior Timmy Gonzales is also one of Canyon's state entries.

"We've got depth and we've got to get that little pack we've had," Broneer said. "That's the difference between eighth and fourth.

"We're excited. I do really believe we belong there and I think we'll do well."

Golden Valley did well at last year's state meet, finishing 11th in the program's first trip to the CIF State Division III championship.

Right from the first practice, the Grizzlies have been focused on a return trip, a goal the team accomplished by finishing third at the sectional finals.

"We look at it as it's an exciting reward to a great season, but when the gun goes off, it's like any other race," said Golden Valley co-head coach Chris Evans. "It's about running as a team."

That team has stepped up big behind senior Seth Totten, who finished fifth individually at the 2008 state meet.

Sophomore Kristian Martinez has been the Grizzlies' No. 2 runner most of the season, and fellow sophomores Danny Carrillo and Juan David Garcia have improved recently.

Senior Avery McDougal, freshman Nolan DelValle and junior Luc Schutz have been consistent contributors, and they are the other state entries for this weekend.

Last weekend, the Grizzlies finished third behind Palos Verdes and St. John Bosco.

"We ran a great race at CIF prelims," Evans said. "It's hard to run those races back-to-back. Our team ran a great race but individually we kind of struggled. We're looking to be in that top three, trying to get a podium finish."

Like Golden Valley, West Ranch raced at Woodward Park in mid-October at the Clovis Invitational.

They'll be racing there again Saturday in the program's first trip to the state meet.

"Realistically, I think without us having to run out of our minds, we could be in the top seven," Smith said. "The primary reason is that the course is more suited for the type of runners we have. We don't have strong runners, we have speed runners, and on a flatter course we can get more separation."

Smith said that Mountain View and Foothill are the primary targets, and if the Wildcats can finish ahead of those two schools they can finish in the top seven.

Following the sectional championships, Smith had to re-enforce that goal at practice.

"I could already tell the girls thought it was over," he said. "I said, ‘You guys think we're done, don't you?' It's the biggest stage we've been on. We want to do our best."

West Ranch's top three of senior Bailey Miller, junior Jennifer Owen and sophomore Ashley Welker - whom Smith called a "sleeper" for this weekend's race - have been consistent all season long.

Last weekend saw a career performance from senior Marissa Yabko, and sophomore Samantha Phillips is improving after coming down with strep throat.

Juniors Kendahl Waalk and Kaitlin Phillips will also suit up for the Wildcats at Woodward Park.

The performance of the back four runners has been critical to West Ranch's success all season, and Smith said this weekend is no different.

"You'd like to think it's not a one-and-done thing," he said. "We're pumped. We know the course. We think we can get a good time."

The girls' Division II race is scheduled to begin at 8:40 a.m. Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno. The boys' Division II race is scheduled for 9:40 a.m., and the boys' Division III race is scheduled for 10:10 a.m.


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