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2011-12 Team of the Year: Golden Valley boys cross country and Saugus girls cross country

Posted: July 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The 2011 state champion Golden Valley boys cross country team.

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There’s a lot that goes into building a successful cross country program. Perhaps nothing is more important than competition for varsity spots.

Competition drops times. Competition builds depth. Competition leads to state championships.

Competition has shaken up The Signal’s Team of the Year voting.

For the fourth year in a row, the Saugus girls cross country team earned the honor. Only this time, the Centurions share it with the Golden Valley boys cross country team.

Both squads won Division II state titles this past November at Woodward Park in Fresno. Both squads dominated the Foothill League. Both squads were replete with talented, selfless runners.

Other than that, it’s a case study in contrasts.

Start with the Golden Valley boys. A lot of programs at the school have been afflicted by athletic hardships, but not the cross country team. It entered the fall of 2011 having finished no worse than 11th in the state the past three seasons.

Still, there were no state, Southern Section or even Foothill League championships to reflect the program’s rapid upward trajectory.

That all changed thanks to a veteran team, which featured a consistent seven-man lineup of seniors Kristian Martinez, Juan David Garcia, Carlos Lopez, Aaron Nguyen and Gabe Levy and juniors Nolan Del Valle and Brendan Tinoco.

Led by Martinez, they swept their way through the Foothill League before capturing the CIF-SS Div. II title on Nov. 19 at Mt. San Antonio College. The Grizzlies beat runner-up Loyola, a traditional powerhouse, by 28 points.

Martinez became the second individual league champion in program history, and the first individual Southern Section champion after running the Mt. SAC course in 14:54.

At the state meet, Martinez’s performance sagged a bit due to illness, but he still gutted out a top-15 finish. His teammates had his back, with all five scorers finishing among the top 40 runners attached to a team.

The season ended with an 11th-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., in Golden Valley’s first trip to the race.

As for the Saugus girls, they’re very familiar with Nike Cross Nationals. And state titles. And Southern Section titles.

Entering the season, however, there were serious questions about the team’s ability to maintain the staggering level of success it had enjoyed since 2006. Graduation losses had hit the varsity team harder than ever before, and other superpowers like Simi Valley and La Costa Canyon had moved into Division II to challenge Saugus.

No one expected the Centurions to miss the state meet. Then again, no one really expected them to extend their unprecedented streak to six state championships in a row.

Too bad.

With senior co-captains Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui leading the way, Saugus was a picture of resiliency at Woodward Park. Despite finishing second at the CIF-SS Div. II finals behind Simi Valley the week before, and despite a rough first mile of the state championship race, the Centurions flooded over the finish line like they have so often in recent years.

Frankian’s third-place overall finish led the way, while Jauregui, sophomore Abigail Frankian, senior Jordan McCall, junior Katie Huntington and junior Heidi Hoslet were separated by a grand total of seven spots. Senior Emily McCarty, meanwhile, would have been a scoring runner on all but three other teams with her finish.

With a strategy dubbed “patience followed by destruction,” the Centurions’ team time of 1 hour, 31 minutes, 52 seconds was the fastest girls time across all divisions.

It was well-earned. As the Golden Valley boys were basking in the glory of their first state title, a cheer arose from the Saugus tent when the girls found out they’d won their sixth.

So who wins the Team of the Year award? For a while, it looked like it’d be Golden Valley.

But like its grip on California girls cross country, Saugus just wouldn’t let this one go.

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