Meagen Lowe, Great Oak relays run U.S. best times at Mt. SAC

TORRANCE, Calif. -- Meagen Lowe needed to hold off a strong late push from Jacqueline Duarte and it undoubtedly helped her to a U.S. No. 1 time in the mile.

Lowe, a senior from Clovis Buchanan HS, was joined by two relay teams from Temecula Great Oak in posting U.S.-leading times on Friday night during the distance portion of th 61st Mt. SAC Relays held at El Camino College in Torrance.

Lowe's time of 4:46.85 surpassed the previous national-leading time in the mile of 4:48.31 run by Carlee Hansen of Woods Cross (UT) at the Arcadia Invitational. 

Lowe, who has signed with Oregon State, pushed to the front early, ran with Ayala senior Mikaela Ramirez until sprinting away late atop the national rankings.

"It feels great," Lowe wrote in a post-meet social interview. "Although I try not to focus on rankings until the state meet, it feels good to see my hard work paying off!"

Duarte, the sophomore from Chino Hills who was third in the 1600 at State last year, held back in the front pack before she launched a late kick with about 300 left. Duarte simply ran out of track to catch Lowe, who, who split 72, 73, 72 and came home in 68 seconds.

Of note, her converted 1600 time of 4:45.169 is a national best by nearly two seconds.

Duarte's time of 4:48.56 ranks U.S. No. 3 for the mile. Ramirez, who signed with Indiana, finished in 4:53.89, and Oak Park senior Sylvia Cruz-Albrecht, appearing all the way back from leg injuries suffered midway through the cross country season, was fourth in 4:56.69.

This is just the latest breakout performance by Lowe, who has been on a steady ascension as this season has unfolded.

Her previous mile PR was 4:51.01 from the Azusa Meet of Champions, where she was second to Kristin Fahy's then-U.S. No. 2 time of 4:49.98. That was March 23. A week later, Lowe ran her 800 PR of 2:12.59 at the West Coast Relays. The weekend after that, running the 3200 at Arcadia, Lowe crushed her 3200 PR in 10:12.78, getting the better of Fahy as both ran behind the then-U.S. best time of 9:59.57 set by Katelynne Hart of Illinois. 

So, making the drive down in Friday holiday weekend traffic from Clovis paid dividends for the iconic Buchanan senior.

"Going into the race," Lowe wrote, "I believed my fitness level was around 4:45-46, so it gave me a lot more confidence actually doing it."

The constant of Great Oak's double accomplishment was junior Arianna Griffiths and senior Fatima Cortes. That the Wolfpack managed two U.S. No. 1 times without junior star Tori Gaitan is a testament to the program's high-end depth. Gaitan, runner-up for MileSplitCA Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, has been sidelined most of track because of growth-related strain. She will not run again this season, Great Oak coach Doug Soles said.

On the track before the girls mile stole the headline, the Wolfpack girls 4x800 relay team of Kendall Harrison, Aubrey Nex, Griffiths and Cortes combined for a U.S. No. 1 time of 9:09.91. (Griffiths is pictured below during her leg in the 4x800 relay.)

Walnut, led by Chloe Arriaga and anchored by Emma Arriaga, was second in 9:22.92 for CA No. 4.

Much later in the night, after the cool wind had died down and temperatures were much more favorable to 4x600 relay runners, Great Oak's girls again put up a national-leading time. ''

The Wolfpack team of Brianna Weidler, Audrey Dang, Griffths and Cortes ran 20:14.64. Cortes anchored in 4:53 as the Wolfpack not only surpassed their season best from Arcadia (20:24.83), they also dipped under the previous U.S. No. 1 time pf 20:20.82 by Sacramento St. Francis, a time run at Arcadia to beat runner-up Great Oak.

Walnut, led again by the Arriaga twins, was second in at season-best 21:00.04 and Newbury Park was third in 21:06.27.

A night after running a 1600 PR to win the Ventura County Championships title on a warm afternoon in Moorpark, Oak Park's Sarah Shulze pulled away from Buchanan's Corie Smith over the final few laps to run a 10:18.77 PR to win the 3200 title on a chilly night at El Camino College.

That result slots her CA No. 3 and U.S. No. 9. Smith, who was recently diagnosed with low iron as the cause of her late-season illness in cross country that cost her a chance to compete at the State Meet, looked strong throughout in running 10:25.79 for second. Smith led much of the race as she and Shulze left the pack behind early and ran together for the majority of the race.

Granada Hills Charter freshman Sofia Abrego was third in 10:37.30, just off her PR of 10:35.79 run at Arcadia, the U.S. No. 3 time in the freshman class.

As was the case a week before at the Orange County Championships, San Juan Capistrano JSerra senior Peter Herold held off teammate Anthony Grover to win the boys invitational mile. Herold won in 4:13.58 with Grover, a junior, next in 4:15.19. Last Saturday at the OC Champs, Herold won the 1600 in 4:11.50 with Grover next in 4:13.27, PRs for both. 

West Ranch senior Evan Bates was third in the mile at Mt. SAC, running 4:17.16, with La Costa Canyon's Caleb Niednagel fourth in 4:18.72. 

Jonathan Velasco, a Foot Locker National Finalist from Mission Hills in the San Diego Section, won the boys 3200 in 9:09.05. Mason Norman (Classic Academy in Colorado Springs, CO) was second in 9:11.38 and Mac Staryk (Jackson Hole (WY) HS) was third in 9:19.25. 

The Great Oak boys 4x800 relay team, with Ryan Shields going to the ground as he lunged over the finish line, defeated Southwestern League rival Murrieta Mesa by .09 seconds. Shields' anchor leg and relentless final 100 meters in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle with Mesa's Aris Valerio was the difference in the 7:51.84 finish.

The boys played cat-and-mouse over the final lap to see who would take the lead and try to hold off the other's inevitable charge. Valerio took the bait and the lead on the backstretch, Shields held pace just behind before that final sprint home. 

In that race, Great Oak didn't quite hit its U.S. No. 5 time of 7:49.96 from Arcadia but the Wolfpack pulled the Rams to a PR at 7:51.93 that vaults them to CA No. 3 and U.S. No. 6.

In the final high school race of the Friday night schedule, Palmdale Highland outdistanced Great Oak to win the 4x1600. Highland's team of Anthony Alvarez, Ben Sumner, Daniel Rodriguez and Trevor Vahan needed a U.S. No. 2 time of 17:32.47 to beat the Wolfpack by all of .44 seconds. Great Oak's team, anchored by junior Chris Verdugo, ran a season best 17:32.91, which ranks U.S. No. 4. Newport Harbor was third in 17:49.67 (U.S. No. 6).

NOTES -- The venerable meet is being held about an hour away from the Mt. San Antonio College campus in Walnut because of construction at Hilmer Lodge Stadium. All indications are the meet will return to Walnut in 2020. ... Among performances by post-high school CA athletes competing Friday: Porte-Joie Tshiaba (Dorsey/LA; Cal State Los Angeles) won the high jump with a clearance of 7-0. ... Zach Shinnick (Damien/SS; USC) won the 400 (46.38) ... April Sutton (Centennial/SS; Arizona) was second in the 400 hurdles (59.65) and Breanna Bernard-Joseph (Roosevelt/SS; USC) was third in the 400 hurdles (59.79). ... Harrison Gould (Great Oak/SS; BYU) was third in both the shot put (51-09.75) and discus throw (165-05). ... CJ Alumbres (Vista Murrieta/SS; UCLA) was fifth in the triple jump (49-09) ... Gardenia Centenaro (Centennial/SS; competing unattached) was fourth in the pole vault (12-07.50) ... Dominique Ruotolo (Mater Dei/SS; competing for LEAP Squad) was second in her flight and ninth in the final of the triple jump with a best of 40-09.75.

Photos by Jeffrey Parenti. Check out more photos and interviews.