DIVISION III BOYS
Palos Verdes - The odds for our five projected divisional champs are not higher for any other squad than Palos Verdes. After their hiccup of missing the State meet in 2016, the young squad returned last year with a mission. That mission will be realized this season as Nathan Lantz (4:21/9:36) returns as one of the fastest in the division, boasting a 15:20 on the Riverside Championship course. The Sea Kings return seven that are projected to finish within the top 25 this postseason. William Teets and Wade Nygren are both coming off stellar track seasons (both at 9:37) and both should be right there with Lantz among the top 10 at finals. Tate Nygren, Frankie Reid (9:53), Brandon Farnsworth (9:58), Ryan Shikiya and Erik Anderson all return with postseason experience. Christian Veerkamp is a new face in the mix after a 4:35 track season. Eight boys have run under 4:40, while their top five all ranged between 9:36 and 9:58 on the oval. This should be the 12th time in 13 seasons that PV qualifies for State. If they follow through on our projections, this would be their fourth title in that time and perhaps, one of the top five squads in the Southern Section.
West Torrance - The defending champions and one of the larger boys teams in the section figure to be the biggest challenge to Palos Verdes. But no team lost more last year. West Torrance graduated six, yet based on track season, has already reloaded for 2018. Niccolo Esquivelzeta (4:25/9:45) and Joon Hee Bock (4:32/9:39) are coming off tremendous track seasons. Bock was injured during last year's championship run in November. Jake Parker (4:25/9:55) and Nolan Gallagher ran in the low-16's at last year's prelims. Liam Fitzpatrick is coming in confident after his 4:37/9:57 track season. Seung Yang will be in the varsity mix and is coming off a 10:01 spring. Meanwhile, the incredible depth of the Warriors should see them back at State. Head coach Jason Druten has developed one of the best programs in the section. This figures to be his fifth consecutive year advancing to the State final, with the last three, earning them divisional titles. West Torrance's challenge of Palos Verdes will be one to follow.
Indio - The Rajahs return seven of their top eight from last year's finals' group. Where this group was perhaps a year away, as they ran much better at the prelims, Indio is coming off a productive track season. Victor Urbina is coming the best track season (4:31/9:36) while Aaron Perez showed some great improvement in coming away with 4:39/9:51 personal bests. Adrian Ramirez (4:45/10:12) will be right there with Jullian Dorantes-Lara (4:44) while Jesse Diaz will be one of the only non-seniors in their varsity group. Out during the postseason last year, Robert Cecena will add another weapon to the arsenal. On paper, Indio should be a lock in securing a spot at State, extend a streak that dates to 2013.
Corona del Mar - The Sea Kings move into the newly configured Sunset League and should do just fine in the more competitive 'Surf' portion of the league. Like the majority of the squads in this tier that return most of the team, they performed much better at last year's prelims than finals. Corona del Mar returns ALL seven from last year's team and will look to rise to the top of this tier by November. Joseph Cianfrani (15:55), Duncan Taylor (16:00), Ian Turner (16:04), Josh Means (16:24) and Nick Pence (16:33) return as a crew capable of breaking 79 minutes on the Riverside Championship course. Cianfrani (4:29/9:48) and Turner (4:26/9:54) came through with the most productive track seasons while Pence improved down to a 9:56. Not on the varsity radar last year, Jacob Krantz had a much-improved track season that could see him in the lineup this season. This should be CdM's first team to qualify for State since 2010.
Esperanza - It's been quite some time, but the Aztecs are poised for a run at the State meet. Head Coach Don Chadez has been patiently developing this group. Now, returning all but one from last year's CIF Finals' crew and a successful track season, we were tempted to put them in the higher group. Their top five return, running between 16:18 and 16:45 during last year's postseason. John Welch will lead the pack after coming off a stellar 4:30/9:42 track season. Zane Cox (4:31/10:01) is the Aztecs top returner from the postseason while Josh Moore (4:37/10:02) put together one of the best freshmen track seasons in Orange County. Reed Piette (4:48/10:06), Ryan Manes and Seth Laske will round out the returning six. The key will be to get their pack closer and, perhaps, into the 20 finishers to secure their invite to State. This squad lines up to be better than the 19th place finish it showed last November.
Brea Olinda - The Wildcats have a task of replacing five from their State meet squad from a year ago. This will be one of the younger squads among the division's elite and with perhaps, only one senior in their top seven come November. Their top three coming into the season are underclassmen. Shane Gaffikin should be among the top 10 in the division after running a 16:26 at last year's State meet as the team's No. 2 scorer. He is coming off a 4:31/9:44 track season while sophomore Jonathan Manara posted a 4:40/9:51 spring and is the best in the division in his class. Ryan Daedler and Noah Tamagno return with postseason experience while the rest will be in the varsity mix for the first time. Look for Carlos Perez, Jack Hannum and Matthew Apahidean to secure the remaining spots as this group may be a year away but watch out in 2019! This could be their 10th straight season of qualifying for State, as they earned four titles in that time. It will be their 13th straight year in the finals.
Moorpark - The Musketeers graduate two of their scorers from their State meet team. But they still return juniors Liam Pereira and Keith Murray, who will display one of the best 1-2 combos in the division. Pereira was the top sophomore at last year's finals in rolling to a 15:23 while Murray posted a 15:45. While Pereira's track season was derailed by injury, it was Murray who cranked out one of the best track seasons of anybody in the division. His 9:32 earned him a spot in the CIF Finals for the 3200 meters. Moorpark's fifth scorer at last year's finals, Ethan McGregor, improved down to a 4:23 for the 1600 meters. Also with State meet experience, Alejandro Uribe and Ryan Rauschenberger should provide the strength in those crucial scoring slots. Jay Schmidt will be in the varsity mix once again. Don't be surprised to see Moorpark right back up in Fresno this November as we can see this squad finish toward the top of this tier and be better than last year.
Cathedral City - Competing with Indio in the Desert Valley League, both look to push one another up to Fresno. They finished in 9th place last year. Like Indio, the Lions only lose one boy from their varsity seven a year ago. Fabian Acosta had a most productive track season with 4:38/9:40 personal bests. For the rest of the crew, we would have liked to see better marks from the spring, thus the reason why they have been placed into theis tier. But we cannot ignore the fact that Matthew Nevarez posted a 15:41 at last year's finals and returns the ninth fastest time in the division from last year's postseason. Along with Acosta, four others ran between 16:21 and 16:54 on the Riverside Championship course in 2017 and with that, they are projected to be in the mix for one of those spots at State.
Oak Park - The Eagles return their top six and will be one of the youngest squads competing for a state meet spot. We project five juniors to be among their varsity seven led by Sebastian Sawyer so they're not going anywhere in 2019. Coming off an impressive 4:35/9:37 track sophomore season, Sawyer returns with the seventh fastest time on the Riverside Championship course. Another team that was difficult to chart this past track season, Zach Leith improved to a 4:35 while Antonio Andraus was their No. 2 during last year's postseason, going 16:02 as a sophomore. Bryce and Preston Green both broke 17 minutes last postseason as well. Ethan Land rounds out a crew that could very well find themselves in Fresno this November for the first time since 2014. This should be the sixth time in seven seasons that Oak Park competes in the section finals.
Agoura - A squad that did not qualify for the postseason in 2017 returns in. Although they may still be a year away from the state meet, this is a group that will be knocking on that door here in 2018. This will be a junior-laden squad that is led by Ryan Koepnick. Other juniors in support include Alex Mikaelian, Beau Bordelon and Seth Hardy. While we have Koepnick projected to fight for an individual berth into the state meet, the supporting trio has exposed the talent to break the 16-minute threshold on the Riverside Championship course. In who may be their only senior in their scoring five, Ronin Toy also returns with some solid credentials. Bordelon is coming off a solid 4:32/9:56 track season. In addition, sophomore Ben Klepper should join this group in time as he is coming off a 4:51 freshman track campaign. If the Chargers don't get it done here in 2018, they should be a heavy favorite for the state meet in 2019.
South Torrance - Hayden Johnson (4:25/9:51) returns to lead the Spartans, which graduated four from last year's squad. Johnson's best is 15:42, achieved at last year's prelims. George Orduno (10:10), Robert Martinez and Matt Peters all return with postseason experience while Gregory Chan is coming off a solid track season. As South Torrance is a squad that can finish in the top 10, it will need to erase memories of last year's final where everyone ran well below their talent level.
Baldwin Park - The Braves graduated three from their varsity group, and replacing Edgar Nunez will be tough. But as a sophomore, Eduardo De Paz rolled to a 15:39 on the Riverside Championship course and returns as a favorite to qualify as an individual to the State meet (like Nunez did). De Paz did have to shut it down in March this past track season, unfortunately. Cody Billings ran 16:22 at last year's finals while Elliot Melchor ran 17:22 as a freshman. But depth is sorely needed for this crew to move into the next tier. Eduardo Castillo will add to the scoring set and help his crew returning back to the finals for a fourth straight season.
Whittier - The Cardinals graduate their top three from last year's 3rd place team and state meet squad. Now, last year's supporting cast needs to step up if they are to return back to the divisional finals. Luis Garcia (16:13), Miguel Mena (16:26), Giovanni Mejia (16:35) and Anthony Cano (16:52) return from last year's postseason and provide a solid quartet for Whittier. We would have liked to see stronger stats from this past track season, by on paper, Whittier could very well compete for a top ten spot in November.
Torrance - Another one of those impressive programs out of the city of Torrance, they return six from last year's crew. On tap for another trip to the finals, this would be their third straight trip. Seiya Miyazaki is their top returner as he ran a 16:25 at the Riverside Championship Course while Gill Bothwell, Harry Bragg and Connor Huang will provide valuable support up front. We would have liked to see better times as a whole, but Bothwell did improve to a 4:44 this track season. The Tartars return enough talent and experience to match last year's squad.
Bonita - Another squad that looks to return to finals, junior Nicholas Acosta is their top returner, posting a 16:25 at last year's divisional prelims. But, Trevor Benson had the best track season among the group, 4:31/10:06 personal bests. Connor Hennig and Jacob Hardy also had impressive track campaigns that may make this group better than we have them projected. In who will be their future, Daniel Echeveste with a 4:45/10:23 freshman season. This should be their third straight trip to the finals and should improve upon their 20th place finish from a year ago.
Servite - This should be their fourth straight trip to the divisional finals as they finished in 15th place a year ago. They return five from that squad. When comparing personal bests from last postseason, Sam Sequiera, Liam Ward, Micah Navarro and Brian Elsing are all within 17 seconds apart. If this crew moves up, breaking 16 minutes this November, they will also rise up to challenge for a possible top-10 finish. Aaron Libell should also join this group as he improved to a 4:39 this past track season.