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Prep cross country: Their piece of the dynasty

2012 Saugus team working to join winning tradition

Posted: November 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The 2012 Saugus girls cross country team may not be full of superstars, but it's a team plenty capable of winning the program's seventh straight state championship this Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.

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It’s become an unofficial tradition in recent years for alumni to drop by Saugus High School the week of Thanksgiving to visit their old teammates and coaches on the girls cross country team.

Typically, the team is training for the CIF State Cross Country Championships the same week.

The 2012 Saugus team was greeted by several former Centurion stars who helped the school bring home state titles in each of the past six years.

The legends of the past were there to watch Saugus’ present prepare for a potential seventh state championship in a row when it competes in Saturday’s CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno.

Saugus Head coach Rene Paragas has been saying it all season that this year’s team may not be as naturally talented as some of its predecessors, but he says it’s “arguably the hardest working team and certainly the most conscientious team. The team that just wants to do well.”

To be fair, this team is coming off a CIF championship in Southern Section Division II last week — a feat last year’s team fell short of.

It’s not as if this team can play the underdog card.

Yet still, it’s not the same as it was before when runners like Stephanie Bulder (2010 graduate), Merissa Kado (2010) and Jenay Jauregui (2011) were around.

The three stood by and watched on Wednesday while the latest Saugus crew trained for a chance at their own piece of history.

The group of nine runners (seven racers plus two alternates) making the trek to Fresno this weekend possesses only three years of combined varsity experience.

That’s also unusual in the recent era of Saugus domination.

For example, last year’s team ran the state finals with five years combined varsity experience and the 2010 squad came into the season with eight years.

“Last year, we weren’t the top people so we had other people to rely on. But this year, we’re the top so it’s kind of scary,” says senior Heidi Hoslet, who is one of three Saugus runners who ran for last year’s state title team.

A former teammate of Hoslet’s remembers having some similar doubts coming into last season, but that team managed to pull it off when it mattered most in late November.

“That’s what everyone thinks every summer. Everybody thinks that we’re not going to be able to pull it together. But somehow these girls found something,” says Jauregui, now a freshman at San Jose State University.

Of the current Saugus runners, only Hoslet, senior Katie Huntington and junior Abigail Frankian are making return trips to the Woodward Park course in Fresno.

The other members of the team have never even laid eyes on the course, Paragas said.

“We have a lot of pressure on us to win the seventh, but we’re just trying to stay calm, treat it like every other race we’ve had and just be prepared,” says sophomore Samantha Ortega, one of the Fresno first-timers.

Ortega emerged as the team’s surprising No. 1 runner after joining the program late last season.

Earlier this month, Ortega won the individual Foothill title and she was Saugus’ top finisher last week with a second place finish at the CIF-Southern Section Division II championships at Mt. San Antonio College.

That led the way to a Division II title for the Centurions, who have now won six Southern Section championships in the last seven years.

In 2011, Saugus settled for second in the Division II finals, failing to win a CIF title for the first time since 2005.

But winning a sectional title was just another step on the way to the real goal.

“That’s what the season is about for all of us,” Huntington says. “At least for the varsity team, that’s pretty much our goal.”

Both Huntington and Hoslet almost didn’t get to this point because of injuries suffered this year.

Hoslet had a stress fracture in her foot that kept her out of action for four months in the summer, while Huntington pulled a hamstring midway through the season.

Neither one of the seniors raced much during the league season, but both recovered in time to participate in CIF finals. Hoslet was Saugus’ No. 3 finisher, and Huntington was No. 4.

Both are expected to be among the five scoring runners for the team behind the top two, Ortega and Frankian.

The Centurions have seniors Olivia Altieri and Nina Sassano competing for a top five spot while sophomore Darby LaPlant, senior Alex Hill and sophomore Sabrina Janes can all potentially race on Saturday.

It will be an eclectic group of girls who, despite a relative lack of experience, will come in with the usual target on their backs given the accomplishments of past Saugus teams.

“They’re trying to fill some very, very, very large shoes, so they kind of understand that and know there can’t be any margin for error,” Paragas says. “If we want to try to do this, we have to run closest to our potential possible.”

With the day’s training run completed, the Saugus girls didn’t need another reminder of how much is expected of them.

They were literally surrounded by the shadow of past champions.

They know exactly how important it is to keep the dynasty alive.

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