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CIF cross country: Saugus surpasses its expectations

The 7th title might be the most improbable

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

Members of the Saugus High girls cross country team, top row from left, Darby LaPlant, Abigail Frankian, Sam Ortega and head coach Rene Paragas, bottom row from left, Olivia Altieri, Katie Huntington, Nina Sassano and Heidi Hoslet pose with the CIF state cross country Division II championship trophy.

 

FRESNO – The seven state titles in a row almost diminish what this year’s Saugus girls cross country team did.

It’s hard to call it a Cinderella story or a stunning development when, on paper, it’s just another championship.

Imagine the Chicago Bulls winning a seventh NBA title after Michael Jordan left. That’s what this was.

The truth is, Saugus’ CIF State Division II victory on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno wasn’t really supposed to happen.

“We don’t have the man power, the personnel we’ve had in years past, but we had something else that’s more important,” said head coach Rene Paragas. “We believed in ourselves. We worked really hard, and when the chips were down and we were losing the race, the girls rallied back and won it in the final meters.”

CIF officials might as well rename the last mile of the 5,000-meter track ‘The Saugus Stretch’ given the amount of times the Centurions have won races with last-minute kicks.

Even the competition is getting used to it.

The La Costa Canyon girls team stood on the podium after finishing runner-up to Saugus for the second year in a row. Even La Costa Canyon head coach Bill Vice had to quip, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” in reference to settling for second again.

But as established as Saugus is, a seventh state crown in a row was never guaranteed.

It was a somewhat similar story with last year’s team with the “could the streak end?” talk hovering over the program all season.

But at least the eventual state champion 2011 team had sure bets in runners like Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui.

Those two graduated and left the 2012 squad with just three years of combined varsity experience.

“We weren’t supposed to win last year either so it was sort of the same,” said senior Heidi Hoslet, who paused, and eventually admitted, “I think this year we actually worked harder because these girls aren’t super, super fast. But we had so much hard work that it made up for it.”

Hoslet was one of three runners returning from last year’s state champion team, with senior Katie Huntington and junior Abigail Frankian the other two.

Those three were the foundation.

But the team still needed a frontrunner.

Enter Samantha Ortega, stage right.

While on the podium, Paragas introduced her as “the one no one has heard of.”

Well world, here she is — a sophomore, who just broke a Santa Clarita Valley record at a state final with a time of 17 minutes, 33 seconds.

The previous record was 17:34 set by Saugus graduate Kaylin Mahoney in 2008, which was good for a Division II state title

In Ortega’s case, it was second place and four seconds behind Granite Bay’s Maggie Bell.

“My strategy was just to go for it, try it,” Ortega said. “Even try to go for that individual title. I didn’t get it today, but (I wanted to) just to go for it.”

And in the minutes that followed her finish, the pieces fell into place. Hoslet was next, then Frankian, then Huntington. Olivia Altieri rounded out the scoring runners for Saugus, while Nina Sassano and Darby LaPlant both came in less than a minute later.

When Paragas initially got word of his team’s victory, he sprinted through the crowd toward Saugus’ tent a few hundred feet away to relay the news.

It brought about a reaction of relief, complete with hugs and tears.

Even if the rest of the Woodward Park field saw this as ‘just another win’ for Saugus, those girls all knew it was something much more than that.

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