Angie Gushue of Claremont sprints to the finish at the Temecula Twilight Invitational (Credit: Clark Kranz)
TEMECULA -- Claremont junior Angie Gushue wasn't used to running at the front and hadn't won a race since early in her freshman year. And when she pulled away early and held off a late push to cross first in the Varsity Girls race at the inaugural Temecula Twilight Invitational on Saturday night, 'tears of joy.'
Yucaipa senior Justin Briscoe had scanned the entries to the Varsity Boys race and knew he had a chance to win but that talking about it wouldn't get it done. When he pulled away early and left the pack in the dark on the 1.5-mile two-loop fast track at Galway Downs to cross with a season best, he said he was humble and thankful that it all came to fruition.
The first-year meet in a bucolic setting in the southeast edge of Temecula attracted 30 schools to compete on the course layout of co-meet directors Coley Candaele of Vista Murrieta and Bill Reeves of Claremont. The cozy layout in a unique setting was mostly flat with long straights, minimal turns along a trek across manicured soccer fields, dirt paths, alongside a horse track and through a tunnel. A tunnel? Yes, a tunnel!
The course is designed for maximum spectator viewing with half a dozen passes within steps of the start/finish area. Temperatures forecast between the mid-80s and low-60s were comfortably between that range. All in all, it was reminiscent of other evening 3-mile XC events -- the early-September Cool Breeze at Pasadena's Brookside Park (meet directed by Reeves), and Woodbridge, held at the SilverLakes Sports Complex in Norco with the envious reputation as the fastest 3-mile meet in the land.
Gushue was one of two individual champions for Claremont and Briscoe was one of four individual champions for Yucaipa.
Great Oak, with its A teams on the East Coast, putting on an impressive sweep of Race of Champions team titles at the Great American Cross Country Festival in Cary, NC, nonetheless displayed its tremendous depth winning five of the eight team titles with two second-place finishes and one third.
The Wolfpack had only one individual champion in Mark Cortes, who won the Freshman Boys race in 15:26.7 to lead a 1-2-3-5-7 show of force in a 73-point team victory. Nick Gaffney (15:46.4), Ramses Cortes (15:47.6) and Austin Elkins (16:38.3) rounded out the top four for Great Oak.
Gushue said, other than league meets where the team runs in a pack up front, she hadn't led a race or won since Cool Breeze early her freshman year.
"I was a little shocked, because it doesn't usually happen. I was really just trying to remain confident and say, 'OK, I can stick in the front. I can do it.' Once I was halfway and still in the front, I was like, 'OK, only halfway more to go and I'd won the race.' I just tried to remain positive."
Running up front and feeling pressure late helped her break 17-minutes for the first time, crossing in 16:56.1, well under her previous 3-mile PR of 17:20.60.
"I could start hearing the girls and people cheering for them," Gushue said. "That kind of scared me a little bit. 'OK ... I need to pick up the pace for the kick.' That really propelled me to finish."
And once she crossed the Finished Results' purple carpet with the victory?
Led by Gee's runner-up placing and sophomore Kaitlyn Townsend seventh-place finish in 17:42.9, Yucaipa was a 29-point team winner over Vista Murrieta, which had Ole Miss-bound senior Makayla Fick (17:16.8) and junior Aniya Pretlow (17:29.6) finish 4-5. Freshman Joelle Upshur was ninth in 17:44.3 as the top finisher for Great Oak, which placed third 10 points behind Vista Murrieta.
The parade began for the Thunderbirds at Sophomore Girls where Savannah Ganter sprinted from a pack late to win going way in 19:07.6 with Riverside Prep's Patricia Ramirez second in 19:18.3 and Claremont's Riley Zitar third (19:31.2).
(Ganter, center, is pictured with Zitar, left, and Ramirez)
In the next race, Yucaipa's Ryan Horspool held off a couple of Great Oak runners to win Sophomore Boys in 15:49.7. Jaxon Kaeller was second (15:52.1) and Samuel Dickinson third (15:52.9) in leading Great Oak to the team title.
Making it three individual titles in as many races, Yucaipa junior Clarissa Clark was an :08 winner over Menifee Heritage sophomore Dakota Zamarripa, crossing in 18:49.7 to win JV Girls. Despite Great Oak going 3-4 with juniors Arianna Gaff (19:00.8) and Caroline Jilek (19:07.7) it was Yorba Linda with an eight-point team victory over the Wolfpack. Yorba Linda had four of the top 10 scorers in senior Kailey Cook (19:32.5), senior Roxane Fournier (19:41.2), junior Kaylee Worrell (19:58.2) and sophomore Victoria Campbell (19:58.4).
Claremont senior Jaden Clark snapped the Yucaipa winning streak by outpacing a pair of Great Oak seniors to win the JV Boys race in 15:28.1. The Wolfack duo of Carson Baldevia (15:47.2) and Benny Perez (15:47.4) helped lead Great Oak to a 43-point team victory over Clark's Claremont Wolfpack.
Gushue's victory made it back to back individual wins for Claremont before Briscoe took the line for the final race of the night and claimed the final individual title back for Yucaipa.
He talked about how his previous 3-mile PR from Woodbridge a year before stood as one of the faster times for that distance in the Varsity Boys field.
"I saw that I was one of the fastest people going in," Briscoe (pictured) said. "That really got me the confidence, got the idea in my head of going out there and trying to win it."
And it wasn't long into the race before Briscoe took charge.
"We got up to about a mile and a half down the course and I just went for it from there," he said. "I was telling myself, I'm feeling good at a mile and just go for it, and that's what I did tonight."
Pre-race, apparently Briscoe talked enough about his chance for winning that prompted his coach to remind him to let his legs make the statement.
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Photos by Clark Kranz and Jeffrey Parenti