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CIF cross country: Legacy continues

Saugus girls win seven straight state title; boys take second place

Posted: November 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Saugus' Samantha Ortega runs in the girls Division II race at the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday. Ortega finished second overall.

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FRESNO – It was a tense couple of minutes for Saugus.

The girls cross country team, surrounded by coaches, parents and alumni, could do nothing but wait.

When the word finally arrived that Saugus had won its seventh straight state championship, the team celebrated as if it were the school’s first.

The girls team won the CIF State Division II championship by its slimmest margin yet, led by sophomore Samantha Ortega’s second-place finish in a Santa Clarita Valley Woodward Park-record 17 minutes, 33 seconds.

It all capped off the most impressive combined boys and girls performance in Saugus school history on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.

“I cried this year. That’s how important it was,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. “I had tears in my eyes — and not for me, for the girls. There are a lot of girls who have never been a part of it. They waited for years to be on this team, and they got it done.”

The Saugus boys team was edged out of its first-ever state title, but tied for a program-best finish of second place in Division II behind Westlake.

Senior A.J. Yarnall also took second place in 15:10, which broke Robert Pion’s 2010 school record time of 15:22 at a state final.

Two Golden Valley athletes were also in action on Saturday as individual qualifiers. As the school’s first girl to ever appear in a state meet, Grizzlies freshman Bianca Tinoco came in a remarkable seventh place in Division II in 18:09. In boys Division II, Golden Valley senior Nolan Del Valle ended up 15th with a time of 15:41 in his fourth straight appearance at the state finals.

“I can’t even process it in my mind yet because there are so many talented girls that have been (at Golden Valley) and they all worked so hard. And it’s just crazy,” Tinoco said.

It was a drama-filled day for both Saugus teams.

The mile splits revealed a neck-and-neck race for the girls throughout with La Costa Canyon of the CIF-San Diego Section.

Saugus won with 97 points to La Costa’s 108 thanks to strong finishes from Saugus’ Nos. 4 and 5 runners.

“We’re not the most talented team out there,” Paragas said. “I always tell the girls we’ve got to weather the storm. We’ve got to take the best punches these other teams throw at us the first mile, the second mile.”

Ortega was near the front of the pack most of the race, and although she finished four seconds behind individual champion Maggie Bell of Granite Bay, Ortega was a second faster than the all-time SCV record at a state meet of 17:34, held by Saugus graduate Kaylin Mahoney.

That time won Mahoney a state title in 2008.

“We had to want it even more. We had to put so much heart forward,” Ortega said. “We had to use every ounce of strength that we had. Once we all crossed the finish line, we were all on the floor and we were just dying.”

Finishing behind Ortega was senior Heidi Hoslet at 21st in 18:32, junior Abigail Frankian (23rd, 18:35), senior Katie Huntington (35th 18:51) and senior Olivia Altieri (49th, 19:10).

The boys team was more than 40 points behind Westlake going into the final mile of the 5,000-meter race, but the endurance-tested Centurions made a run for it down the stretch.

Eventually, the Centurions fell short, scoring 97 points to Westlake’s 84.

Yarnall had a chance to become the SCV’s first individual boys state champion as he approached the finish line side-by-side with Dos Pueblos’ Bryan Fernandez.

Fernandez had just enough kick to beat out Yarnall by a single second.

“I couldn’t think. I just was going,” Yarnall said of the end of the race. “I’m still not all the way there right now. I still can’t really see right, so I’m exhausted.”

Coming in after Yarnall was senior Rodrigo Ornelas, this year’s individual Foothill champion, who took 14th with a time of 15:41 in his first state meet appearance.

Other than Yarnall, not a single one of the Saugus boys had run at a state final before. The No. 3 scorer was Anthony Janaslani (41st, 16:11), followed by Alex Pearson (48th, 16:15) and Billy Anthony (50th, 16:15) to round out the scoring runners.

The Saugus boys, despite lacking experience and not gaining much attention coming into the season, put together a performance that matched its best in school history this season.

In 2010, the Centurions also took second in state, losing to Loyola of Los Angeles.

“We believed we had won. Even some of the kids from (Westlake) thought we had won,” said George Serrano, co-head coach of the boys varsity team. “It was that close. It was interesting.”

Del Valle capped off one of the most impressive careers in Golden Valley cross country history. He ran for last year’s Division II state championship team, which was the school’s first.

Though he had hoped for a top 10 spot in his final trip to Fresno as a Grizzly, he wasn’t hanging his head after Saturday’s race.

“I actually just wanted to enjoy the moment in my senior year,” Del Valle said. “I made it up here as an individual, so I didn’t really care what place I got just as long as I had fun. And I got a good place.”


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