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Saugus cross country: Up there with the best

The Saugus boys team has carved out an identity of its own in an ultra-successful program

Posted: November 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The Saugus High boys cross country team, coached by George Serrano (far left) and Jose Flores (far right) took second place in last Saturday's CIF-Southern Section Division II championship race in Walnut. Now the team will race in Saturday's CIF State Cross Country Championship in Fresno this Saturday.

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For years, all they’ve heard people say is, “How about that Saugus girls cross country team?”

Most of them admit there’s a little bit of jealousy.

“Of course. It’s only human right?” says George Serrano, co-head coach of the Saugus varsity boys cross country team headed to its third CIF State Cross Country Championship in four years.

Last Saturday, the team finished second at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals to earn a spot in the state meet after just barely missing out last year.

This coming Saturday, the Saugus boys race in the CIF State Division II race beginning at 10:40 a.m. at Woodward Park in Fresno. It’ll be a chance for the team to win its first-ever state title.

The Centurions will have a chance to make history under new leadership after Rene Paragas, the school’s overall cross country head coach, handed over the coaching duties of the varsity boys team this past summer.

He chose Serrano and former assistant Jose Flores for the job. Flores has worked under Paragas at Saugus the past three years.

Serrano ran cross country for Canyon High from 1982-85 and he’s served on cross country coaching staffs at Canyon, Valencia and Saugus, most recently with Valencia in 2009. He’s also worked as a private trainer for the past 20 years.

Paragas elected to spend more time with his wife and newborn twins this season, so he shifted his focus to the girls team and wanted to make sure the varsity boys were getting the full attention they deserved.

“He just said, ‘You guys take over, you guys come up with your workouts, you guys do whatever you need to do and I said, ‘Whoa, this just became a little more difficult… If this ship sinks it’s on us,’” Serrano says of when he and Flores first took over in June.

It turns out the two of them knew what they were doing.

Saugus came into the season unranked in the CIF-SS Division II polls, but that didn’t last long.

The Centurions won all three Foothill League meets and claimed their sixth league title in the last seven years.

And they did it handily.

“Obviously there’s always going to be an adjustment to a new coach, but I thought it was the smoothest transition I’ve ever been a part of,” Paragas says.

The Centurions have found a working formula with a tight-knit group, which is a balance of experienced talent and young, fast runners.

Leading the group is A.J. Yarnall, one of four seniors on the team and the only one who has previous experience at a state meet.

As a sophomore, he was the No. 3 runner for the 2010 team, which finished as a state runner-up in Division II.

“This year is a lot more important for me because I was so much younger then, and I wasn’t really feeling the gravity because I had two more years left back then. But now I really want to do well,” Yarnall says.

He’s followed by fellow senior Rodrigo Ornelas, who outkicked Yarnall to win the individual Foothill title on Nov. 1.

It was a surprising victory for the first-year varsity runner. He sees the potential for Saugus to pull off a surprise of its own on Saturday by upsetting Westlake, the team that won the Southern Section Division II title last week.

“These guys need to unleash everything they’ve trained for all summer, after school, before school,” Ornelas says. “They need to let it all out. Everything they’ve accomplished this summer, they need to show it.”

The other two seniors are Anthony Janaslani and Austin Fisher, who are followed by junior Alex Pearson and sophomore Brian Zabilski. Ethan Walker, Townsend Kaneversky and Billy Anthony will also be considered for the seventh and final racing spot. Two of them will be used as alternates.

“It’s been rewarding knowing that it’s about them,” Serrano says while pointing toward the group of runners. “It’s not about me or (Flores) or (Paragas). It’s about the kids.”

This group maintains its eye on the prize. Saugus is the state’s No. 2 ranked team in the division, according to, which has Westlake ranked at the top.

In 2010, the Centurion boys came closer than ever before to a state title when they took second in Division II.

They also finished 10th in state in 2009.

That kind of track record deserves plenty of praise, but at Saugus, it’s been all about the six-time defending state champion girls team in recent years.

Flores says he’s seen the success of the girls team spill over.

“I said, ‘Come on guys, if the girls can do it, you can do it. Let’s work hard. Let’s run more miles,’” he says.

Now, Saugus is down to its last few miles. Roughly 3.1 of them in Fresno are all that stand in the way of history.

“It’s kind of exciting to know that you could be the first boys team in this school to win (state) ever,” Janaslani says. “We’d finally be up there with (the girls).”



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