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2012 boys cross country preview: Can champs keep it going?

Saugus could challenge a Golden Valley team coming off state title

Posted: September 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Senior A.J. Yarnall and the rest of the Saugus boys were picked to win the Foothill League by coaches' vote.

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Normally, a team coming off a state championships would be the obvious pick to at least win its league the following year.

As deep as the Foothill League is in boys cross country, Golden Valley is hardly a shoe-in.

It’s not as much a knock on the Grizzlies as much as it’s a testament of how talented the rest of the league is, top-to-bottom.

Saugus and Hart both bring back a talented and deep group of runners and Canyon returns one of the top names in the league.

Valencia and West Ranch have added mileage and intensity to their offseason training, making the competition that much more difficult in a league with an ever-growing reputation.   

Golden Valley

It took Golden Valley years to build up to its current level of prominence.

After coming so close three times in a row, it all finally culminated in a Foothill League title and a CIF Southern Section Division II and a CIF State Division II title last season for the Grizzlies.

Now, this program has a question to answer: Can it keep it going?

There are plenty of doubts, though Golden Valley has already climbed to No. 6 in the latest CIF State Division II poll, which is still below the Saugus boys at No. 5.

The fact that the Grizzlies return just two out of seven runners who competed at the state meet last year could explain the soft response for the defending state champions in the polls.

First-year head coach Marc Minasian sees it as a positive.

“When you lose five out of seven, you can easily come back and say, ‘Oh man,’ but these (returning) guys have been busting their tails since May and the rest of the guys have come with them,” Minasian said.

Minasian inherits Golden Valley team that returns seniors Nolan Del Valle and Brendan Tinoco, who were both scoring members of last year’s state championship team.

After those two, the team has a secure No. 3 runner in junior Arnold Bautista, but beyond that, it’s a big group of about eight runners trying to seize the lower spots.

Seniors Rafael Estrada and Siddu Kamarsu and juniors Nicholas Devantier and Luke Contreras are among those contending to replace the froup of five stellar graduates last spring.

Hart

Though it’s been a bit of a rocky start for the Indians, who have a few athletes recovering from injuries, they still have a lot of firepower remaining from last year’s team which took seventh the state Division II final.

Though Hart graduated last year’s strong one-two punch of Sam Peckham and Austin O’Neil, head coach Larry David is confident in another group of top-notch runners who can anchor the team this season.

Senior Billy Walker is recovering from a muscle injury in his leg, but is expected to be a key piece of the team later in the season.

Walker and fellow senior Josh Sherfey, who both ran in the state meet last year, provide a stable foundation of experience at the top for Hart.

“We look to those guys to lead this team second half of the season, then there’s just a good spread of sophomore and junior support.”

Two sophomore returners, Mac Kaufman and Ruben Rubira, had impressive showings at the Seaside Invitational with Rubira winning the 10th-grade race and Kaufman taking eighth.

David said he also expected contributions from two juniors who are new to varsity, Andrew Orona and Bailey James, who likely would have ran varsity last year if it weren’t for an injury.

Saugus

When A.J. Yarnall was a sophomore, he was part of the best Saugus boys team in school history. It was a team that won a CIF-Southern Section Division II championship and finished second in state.

Yarnall is now a senior and he’s the clear top dog on another very deep, very talented team which could try to match the level of the team from two years ago.

“This team is trying to be as good as that team, CIF champions and competing for a state championship,” said head coach Rene Paragas, who has given most of the coaching responsibilities for the boys varsity team to assistants Jose Flores and George Serrano.

After Yarnall, who just returned from a knee injury last week, the Centurions have senior and varsity newcomer Rodrigo Ornelas, who has rocketed to the No. 2 spot after strong performances at the Seaside Invitational and Woodbridge XC Classic earlier this month.

Paragas said both Yarnall and Ornelas are potential all-state runners.

They’ll be helped out by senior Austin Fisher, junior Alex Pearson and sophomore Brian Zabilski, who provide a steady core for a Saugus team which will see contributions from a number of other talented runners.

Valencia

For the second straight year, Valencia is going to have to fill in for a host of graduated seniors from the previous year.

On the bright side, the team’s best two runners this season are two juniors, Alex Allevato and Nick Lentz, who both ran sub-16 minute times at the Seaside Invitational.

Allevato is a returner this year, but Lentz is new to varsity.

The Vikings are seeing a lot of new guys quickly rising in the ranks.

Another is senior Calvin Olbes, who ran the 800-meter in track for Valencia exclusively until this season.

He’s catching on to the cross country game quickly.

“We knew he was going to be good,” said head coach Jeff Gilkey of Olbes. “I just didn’t think he was going to be that good that fast. It was one of those wonderful surprises.”

Between Olbes, sophomore Ryan Davis and freshman Austin Fischer, there are no shortage of strong runners fighting for the top varsity spots.

Canyon

For the last few years, Canyon has been building up depth to give support to its clear No. 1, senior Zach Wims.

Head coach Paul Broneer thinks he may finally have enough behind Wims to give the Cowboys a serious chance at contending.

“Here it is,” Broneer said. “I think this is the year we have three seniors on our top seven and we have eight guys who are right there.”

Senior Joel Estrada is the next runner on the totem poll behind Wims, and the Cowboys have sophomore Caleb McClain and juniors Adam Driedger and Jason Hillquist following closely behind.

Senior Dylan Haerle is also expected to be in the pack for Canyon, which has a cast of runners hoping to return the team to past prominence.

The Cowboys haven’t been to a state championship meet since 2009.

“Every year, that’s the goal, go to the state meet and hopefully perform well,” Broneer said. “We haven’t been there in a while for the boys, so they’re motivated.”

West Ranch

The Wildcats are hoping the past two years have been building blocks to this season.

Finally, the team has a solid senior class of runners with varsity experience.

Jeffrey Black, Pierce Miller, Ramon Gutierrez and Eugene Generoso are all returning seniors who have a chance to help the Wildcats climb out of the bottom of the league.

“We’re hoping (the experience is) going to help us out,” said head coach Rick Larimore. “We’re tired of being in last place. We want to move up.”

The Wildcats will mix in their senior-heavy lineup with a few junior newcomers in Ashton Garcia and Billy Wegeng, as well as freshmen Tucker Welker and Ryan Painter.

Together, this is a group that looks much better than the West Ranch team that finished sixth in league a year ago.

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