Nico Young missed the course record but led three under the previous meet standard on Saturday in the Boys Championship race of the 41st Clovis Invitational at Woodward Park in Fresno. (Credit: DeAnna Turner)
FRESNO -- It's a beautiful thing when promises are kept and expectations are not only met, but exceeded.
Our imagined love affair with the 41st Clovis Invitational in the weeks, days, hours and minutes leading up to the date, turned out to be almost too good to be true.
But how could it not be everything we envisioned and more?
Take the fastest two 3-mile runners in the U.S. -- Newbury Park's Nico Young and Jace Aschbrenner. Mix in the fastest 5K runner in the U.S. -- Gilbert (AZ) Highland's Leo Daschbach. Add one of the nation's best -- Jesuit's Matt Strangio. And include the top two XC teams in the country -- Great Oak and Newbury Park.
And, well, the Championship Boys race was everything the collective cross country community had hoped as Young fought off Daschbach across the long grass finish with Strangio not too far back in third.
All three boys went under the previous meet record of 14:50!
In the Championship Girls race, hometown favorite Corie Smith of Clovis Buchanan fought off a shoulder-go-shoulder challenge by Folsom Vista del Lago sophomore Alexandra Klos to win in meet-record time of 16:53.9.
Young, who three weeks ago ran the fastest 3-mile race in U.S. prep history with his jaw-dropping solo victory at Woodbridge, came ever so close to the epic 5K gold standard on the Woodward Park course, crossing in 14:28.9.
German Fernandez's legendary 14:24 appears safe for another year.
"At the start, I didn't get out too great," Young said. "I was pretty far behind, I think, in the first 400 meters but after that I just kind of weaved around people and got up to the front and I think I led the whole race from there almost. I was going back and forth with one guy for about a mile (Daniel Rodriguez of Palmdale Highland) but after that I held the lead for the rest of the race "
Young said he came through the first mile "right where I wanted to be, I was like 4:28 or 4:29. I knew the second mile was going to be the hardest one with the hills. I just tried to push up those hills and get through that and then close with my third mile, the last 800."
Young said he didn't have a time goal for the third mile but "my goal was to try to break the overall record.
Daschbach, who ran 14:14.26 two weeks ago at Desert Twilight in Casa Grande, AZ, was two seconds behind Young, crossing the purple carpet in 14:30.9.
Young said he came onto the grass finish with that 14:24 goal in mind but also with Daschbach not relenting his pursuit.
"Yeah, people were screaming that at me, " Young said. "I knew. But I was confident in my abilities."
Strangio, the defending CIF-State Division I champion who was eighth at Nike Cross Nationals last winter, was fighting an illness from a recruiting trip to Northern Arizona, and wasn't able to run with Young or Daschbach in the end after being on Daschbach's shoulder through 2 miles.
"I was like I'll do what I can on the day and I think I did my best today," Strangio said. "I'm happy with it."
While he may not have been at his best healthwise, Strangio's 14:49.1 not only also went under the previous meet record of 14:50 set by Luis Grijalva in 2016, but it was the fastest time on the Woodward Park course ever by a runner from the storied Jesuit program.
"It means a lot," Strangio said. "Incredible runners that have come before me. Medals at Worlds, just all these legends. ... To beat their times is insane. It hasn't really sunk in yet but I'm sure on the way home I'll have the 'holy (cow)' moment. 'Wow! I did that?' "
The pre-meet conversation focused primarily on those three boys, three of the nation's ultra elites, and rightfully so. While Daschbach said he plans to run at Mt. SAC in a couple weeks, this trio will not take the line together again until Nike Cross Nationals in Portland in December.
In a field like that, it's to be expected that it would go out fast. Crazy fast! How crazy? Try nine guys under 4:37 at the mile (per the Finished Results live app). At two miles, Young was 9:55.1, Daschbach 9:56.4 and Strangio 9:56.5.
"It was awesome," Strangio said of being part of a race with a field like that. "I really wish I could have been healthy, but obviously NXN matters more. Now I shift the focus to there. It's so awesome coming out to this, this early in the season -- we're halfway through -- but it's just incredible. Having Leo come out from Arizona, coming through the mile in 4:30 and being in like fourth (actually third by 0.1), it's like, 'What?' ... This is crazy. This is a crazy race."
Despite being nearly 12 seconds back of fourth place through two miles, Aschbrenner came hard the final mile and made up 18 seconds on JSerra's Anthony Grover to finish in fourth at 15:03.5.
Grover, a Wake Forest commit and two-time State Division IV champion, was fifth for a second consecutive year, crossing in 15:09.5, a seven-plus second improvement.
Ridgeview senior Alex Cuevas was sixth (15:13.2) and local Clovis North landed two in the top 10 overall as senior Joshua Ochoa placed seventh (15:13.3) and classmate Isaiah Galindo was 10th (15:16.3.). Ochoa was a big mover, making up six spots over the final mile.
MORE CLOVIS INVITATIONAL COVERAGE
Buchanan's Corie Smith held off Alexandra Klos to win in meet-record time. (Credit: DeAnna Turner)
The girls race, lacking the same level of hype as the boys, was nonetheless a compelling dance partner as Smith needed every inch of her home course to win the Girls Championship race, appropriately adding her name to the Clovis Invitational record book.
Klos, a soccer player just four races into this crazy XC thing, pushed Smith almost until the end when a stumble about 20 yards off the finish threw her off stride momentarily as Smith was unwavering in her charge home.
Smith's time of 16:53.9 beat the previous record of 16:55 set by Amber Trotter of Ukiah in 2001. Klos, an elite soccer player already with a college commitment to Santa Clara who came in with the top 5K time in the state, crossed second in 16:57.0.
St. Helena junior Harper McClain, who emerged onto the scene over the summer and continues to run at or near the front, was third in 17:10.2, followed by Palos Verdes senior Savannah Scriven (17:24.4) in fourth. Canyon Crest Academy senior Carlie Dorostkar, who came in with the top 3-mile time in the U.S., was fifth in 17:26.3, a five-place and 30-second year-over-year improvement.
"Everyone was kind of near me the entire time," Smith said. "I was never by myself. But that's honestly a big push for everybody. I like that most of the time. It's great. Obviously we ran a great time."
In the boys team race, Coach Doug Soles' Great Oak A teams, which the week before had flown across the country to knock off the defending Nike Cross National champions from Loudoun Valley (VA), on Saturday took down a Newbury Park team that had out-sprinted the Wolfpack to win at Woodbridge.
Yes, Loudoun Valley and Newbury Park in consecutive weeks! Not too shabby!
It took a strong third-mile close by the Wolfpack quintet in a 6-7-12-15-17 finish as Chris Verdugo (+6, per the Finished Results live results app), Cole Sawires Yager (+12), Christian Simone (+12), Gabe Abbes (+10) and Mateo Joseph (+10) each made up significant ground over the final mile.
Great Oak, a 101-point winner over Newbury Park at this race a year ago, needed all of that collective late kick to knock off the Panthers by eight points this time. Coach Sean Brosnan's Newbury Park lads went 1-3-10-25-26 and set a team time record of 76:09, beating the previous course mark of 76:10 set in 2015 by, you guessed it, Great Oak.
In the girls team competition, the theme of avenging a previous loss at Woodbridge held to form as Great Oak beat Buchanan, 81-116, going 12-14-19-28-33 led by senior Tori Gaitan's 17:50.5, which was 12th overall. Gaitan, the winner here a year ago, continues to round back into top condition after sitting out the entire spring season following a rapid growth spurt.
Buchanan, with Smith getting the victory, had won at Woodbridge on a sixth-runner tiebreaker over Southlake (TX) Carroll while Great Oak placed third. Here, the Bears went 1-20-31-42-48 led by Smith, in a battle of what appears to be the two teams to beat for the Division I title at the CIF-State Meet come Thanksgiving weekend.
If Saturday was indeed a preview of what to expect at the front of the State Meet, any team with designs on the Division II title knows not to look past St. Francis of Sacramento or Newbury Park. St. Francis, led by sophomore Cate Joaquin (7th overall, 5th in scoring in 17:44.7) and senior Isabella Fauria (8th and 6th in 15:45.9) held off a Newbury Park team, bolstered to the addition of transfer Hailey Golmon on the line for the first time, 123-129.
Among the 16 races held at the meet, which varied based on grade (Varsity, JV and Frosh-Soph) and school size (XL, L, M, S) divisions, Great Oak won six titles, three in each gender, and 10 other schools took home a division championships.
Great Oak's day included a victory in the JV girls all-division race by Arianna Griffiths. The senior had been a mainstay on the varsity seven for the majority of her time with the Wolfpack, but a stress injury had kept her off the line since the team's time trial in August.
Her plan yesterday was to go for two miles and then drop out if she didn't feel good. She felt good. Griffiths rolled to a 19:09.7 in a 41-second victory over teammate Kendall Harrison as Great Oak took the top seven places in the field of 247 runners.
Griffiths said she plans to take the line at all meets going forward as she works her way back toward the varsity seven.
In the merge of all girls races, Griffiths time and place isn't impressive. What is is the fact that not only did she take the line for the first time this season and beat more than half-a-dozen teammates, but she did it on a course where she hasn't always finished strong. That race was third-to-last on the day as temperatures climbed into the mid-80s.
As for the girls merge, the Varsity Medium school division, the first race of the morning, came down to one girl taking a wrong turn and another taking full advantage. Miramonte junior Audrey Allen cruised past Yorba Linda junior Siena Palicke after Palicke went off course roughly halfway in. Allen's winning time of 17:49.2 slotted No. 10 in the girls overall merge.
"I'm still happy with what I got," Palicke said of her time and place. "This was a good race, right where I wanted to be. So, I'm happy with it."
Palicke's 17:59.2 ranked No. 14. Third place finisher senior Eleanor Wikstrom of Oakland Skyline, who was second onto the grass toward the finish, couldn't hold off a strong Palicke finish. Wikstrom was third in 18:02.7 which ranked 18th in the merge.
A couple of other notes from the girls merge:
- Palos Verdes has two among the top 17 in senior Savannah Scriven, who was fourth in the championship race at 17:24.4, plus senior Samantha Steman, whose 18:01.2 ranked 17th overall.
- Sophomore Riley Chamberlain of Del Oro was sixth overall in 17:34.8 and No. 2 in the 2022 class behind Klos. She is the defending State Division III champion.
- Orange County represented with San Clemente's Hana Catsimanes (9th, 17:48.1), Capistrano Valley's Carly Corsinita (11th, 17:49.9), and Palicke among the top 20.
- Senior Aubrie Nex came up big for Great Oak. Her 18:00.4 ranked 16th in the merge, No. 2 among Wolfpack runners and was nearly a 25-second PR.
- Los Altos freshman Lauren Soobrian, whose 17:49.30 at Capital Cross ranked as the No. 12 time in the U.S. for 5K by girls in the class of 2023, put up the fastest time among freshies at Clovis. Here 18:03.90 was good for 19th overall in the merge. Rounding out the top three 2023 girls, regardless of race division: 2. Melinda Dang (Great Oak) 18:06.10, 3. Sydney Sundgren (Buchanan) 18:07.20.
In the boys merge ...
- Great Oak had five of the 21 overall while Newbury Park had three.
- Newbury Park freshman Lex Young, Nico's brother, was 37th in 15:37.0. The next ninth grader in the overall merge is Ethan Flores of Anaheim Canyon whose time of 16:17.9 ranked 164th.
- Newbury Park also had the top sophomore in Colin Sahlman, who ran 15:23.0 for 13th. Other 2022s among the top 75: 38. Daniel Trampe (Dublin) 15:37.2; 42. Isaiah Givens (Pasadena) 15:39.2; 44. Daniel Appleford (Newbury Park) 15:40.6; 45. Adin Dibble (Sonora) 15:41.4; 54. Kellen Steplight (Vacaville) 15:45.7, and 75. Taylor Bramel (Santa Ana Foothill) 15:51.6.
All photos by DeAnna Turner and Dan Tyree