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2012 girls cross country preview: Hard to argue with favorites

Even with graduation losses, Saugus still on top of the polls

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

Saugus senior Katie Huntington is one of three returners to the defending state champion Saugus girls team.

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One of two things trends may be emerging with girls cross country in the Foothill League.

Either Saugus has isn’t able to put together the same kind of immensely talented roster it has in years past, or the rest of the league is just starting to catch up.

Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Yet still, whether it’s Foothill coaches or CIF pollsters, no one is daring enough to pick any team above the Centurions, whether in league or in CIF-Southern Section Division II.

Rightfully so for a six-time defending state champion program. But there is something unusual about this year’s Saugus squad, and it’s enough to at least explore the question: Is this the year it gets knocked off the podium?

Saugus

Even after guiding the team to state titles the last six years, head coach Rene Paragas still has a good deal of motivation to keep the streak alive due to this season’s unique challenge.

Paragas openly admits none those past championship teams had as little star power as this one.

In other words, the 2012 team probably doesn’t possess the All-State caliber talent it had in the past after the graduation of the team’s most recent star, Karis Frankian.

But here’s the interesting part, Saugus still has a realistic shot at lucky No. 7.

According to the latest CIF poll, the Centurions are the top-ranked team in the CIF State Division II, which could partly be helped by the departure of Simi Valley from the division.

Simi Valley, which beat Saugus for the Southern Section Division II title last year, moved up to Division I.

“I hope at the end of the season we’re that good,” Paragas said of the polls. “We’re a very solid team. We’re certainly a team that can challenge for state championship this year.”

The Centurions will rely purely on depth this year, beginning with No. 1 runner and sophomore Samantha Ortega.

She’s out in front of three runners who return from last year’s state championship team, junior Abigail Frankian and seniors Katie Huntington and Heidi Hoslet, who are both working their way back from injuries suffered during track and field season in the spring.

Not far behind will be another pair of seniors in Nina Sassano and Alex Hill as well as sophomore Darby LaPlant.

It’s a lineup replete with talent, and one that claimed a team victory at the Seaside Invitational early this month.
Now it’s time to translate that success into league season and beyond.

“The biggest thing is the ownership of the training and the success of the team is not in my hands,” Paragas said. “It’s in the girls’ hands.”

Valencia

After making its first appearance in a CIF final last season, Valencia is looking like it’s on the path to a repeat performance, or better.

The Vikings still have their clear top two from 2011, seniors Maddie Dignadice and Olivia Pear, who appear to be in midseason form based on this month’s races.

Dignadice won the senior race at Seaside and Pear took third.

“If Maddie and Olivia can run what they are capable of this year, and if the rest of the girls can keep the competition going, we’ll be in pretty good shape,” said head coach Jeff Gilkey.

The competition for the other scoring spots on the teams will be between a lot of underclassmen, including freshman Allie Higdon and two sophomores, Gabrielle Zacky and Olivia’s little sister Amelia Pear.

Valencia will also look add depth with juniors Alyssa Rodriguez, Lexi Whiteman and Kim Nugent.

“Everybody’s got a couple of good runners this year,” Gilkey said of the rest of the league. “It will just come down to depth and who can stay healthy.”

Canyon

The Cowboys bring back the most varsity experience of any other postseason team from a year ago.

At least six runners from last year’s 16th-place CIF-SS Division II team are competing for top seven spots again.

That includes the team’s top three in seniors Madison Hills and Valeria Soto followed by junior Natalie Rodriguez.

The good news for Canyon is there isn’t much of a drop off in times after that.

“They’re all pretty close together,” said head coach Paul Broneer. “We’ve got a pack and that’s what a coach loves. They’ve been training a lot together and we’ll have to see who spreads out.”

Adding to the pool of experienced varsity returners who are running with confidence is senior Lindsey Jakeman, junior Shalyn Mabritto, and sophomore Shelby Dunn, who will all be in the mix.

Golden Valley

The core of the Grizzlies team is all back from a year ago, now it’s just a matter of getting everyone healthy.

If this team can put the pieces together at the right time, Golden Valley may be headed back to the CIF finals, where it was is 2010.

One runner did compete at CIF last season, Chelsey Totten, who comes back as a senior after qualifying for the postseason as an individual in 2011.

Totten is just starting to get back to full speed after suffering minor injuries during track and field season, but she’s expected to be the league’s top runner this year, according to the majority of Foothill coaches.

Adding to the host of strong senior runners for the Grizzlies are Abby Buckhoff, Jilliane De Leon and Chelsey’s twin sister Weslie Totten.

The team is also expecting big things from freshman Bianca Tinoco, who has already posted some head-turning times in competition.

Though many of them have had limited chances to race in competition so far this season, first-year head coach Marc Minasian is more worried about preparing them for later.

“I couldn’t care less about how fast you are in July and August,” Minasian said. “What I care about is how fast you are in October and November.

West Ranch

Other than one runner, the Wildcats are among the more experienced teams in league.

The team graduated No. 1 runner Ashley Welker, but brings back a group of juniors who performed well on varsity as sophomores last year.

Among those juniors is Taylor Welker, who’s looking to carry on her older sister’s legacy, joined by Amanda Nesheim and Megan Leonhardt.

The surprise of the season so far has been sophomore newcomer Marisa Magsarili, who was the team’s top finisher at the Woodbridge XC Classic last week and could be West Ranch’s No. 1.

Runners like her could make the difference between making the postseason or not.

“Our goal is to make it out of league to CIF,” said head coach Rick Larimore. “So we’re shooting for one of our top three spots.”

One of the few seniors in the mix for the Wildcats is Tiffany Jackson, a soccer player who decided to give running a shot.

The team also has a sisters who are likely to contribute in Maggie and Abbie Phillips, a senior and junior, respectively.

Hart

There appear to be two clear frontrunners for Hart this season, but it’s a bit of a mystery who will be the next few runners down the list.

Junior and top runner Meghan Fairchild has posted two good races this month, and sophomore Augustina Hansen has battled bronchitis, but is still a probable No. 2 option.

Beyond those two, it’s anyone’s guess who will show up on the score sheet for the Indians.

“From one week to the next, it could be a slightly different lineup,” said head coach Larry David.

The candidates for the remaining spots include senior returners Morgan Pedrick and another senior, Amy Van Leeuwen, who hasn’t run cross country since her freshman year.

Freshman Yohana Nery may also vie for a top five spot on the team.

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