Nico Young and Newbury Park got the call to the line first at the Clovis Invitational but Great Oak (pictured at right) finished on top that day on the 5K Woodward Park course in Fresno. (Credit: DeAnna Turner)
Any other year, Great Oak owns the headlines, running to their sixth straight Division 1 State Championship and hanging up another NXN National Championship to partner up with the one they earned in 2015.
But, this was NOT just any other year!
This 2019 season was one for the ages and perhaps, the greatest two-team battle for national supremacy that we will ever see hail from the Golden State!
Newbury Park ascended itself to become THE best team ever in California state history and one of the greatest ever in United States prep history. In an epic battle that came down to the finish line, they held off a Great Oak squad that was also one of the best California has ever seen.
With that, we have chosen both squads to share the banner as California's Boys Teams of the Year.
It's hard to believe that in 2017, Newbury Park did not qualify for the State Meet. But since then, the Panthers have been nothing short of phenomenal as they captured their second straight Division II State title, becoming the first squad to do so since Loyola achieved the feat back in 2007 and 2008.
Nico Young entered the season as the defending Division II State champion who placed fourth at NXN as a junior. Young was coming off a track season that saw him easily capture the state title for the 3200 meters while running the second fastest time (8:40.00) in California history for the event in April. He captivated everybody and became a household name in the running community. When he broke 13:50 at the Woodbridge Invitational, claims to him being the greatest prep runner in the history of distance running sky rocketed across the nation from chat rooms to all of social media.
Once taking over the boys' team in 2016, head coach Sean
Brosnan employed an intelligent racing and training schedule, built around the
Panthers peaking at their best during the championship season. The 2019 edition came out firing on all
cylinders in setting a new Woodbridge Invite record in averaging 14:14 per
scorer with a 71:10 team time. This was over 70 seconds faster than any other team had run in the invite's history.
Despite being run down by Great Oak at the Clovis Invite, the group matched the Woodward Park course record of 76:10, matching the 2015 national championship Great Oak squad. Overwhelming favorites to crush the Riverside Cross Country Championship course record of 74:18 (held by Great Oak's 2018 team), the Newbury Park boys crossed with a 73:21, averaging 14:40 per runner!
But, in inspiring fashion, the Coach Brosnan's team repeated as Division II State champs while demolishing their team time standard from the Clovis Invite, elevating to a level unseen before -- 75:28! In averaging under 15:06 per scorer, keep in mind that Young only ran .40 faster than he did five weeks earlier, so the bulk of the 42-second improvement came from their other four scorers.
With Great Oak going to NXN still ranked ahead of Newbury Park, the two squads renewed their rivalry with Newbury Park coming out ahead of four points to claim the national title. Nail biting moments indeed, they lost eight points in the last 550 meters of the race in their last two scoring slots but held on for the title!
With Young garnering most of the headlines, lost behind the scenes was the remarkable improvement from everybody else in the program. No doubt that Nico deserved the accolades he earned. He became the first in the history of the Woodward Park course to break 14:50 twice, while he dipped under 14:30 both times! Not only a two-time State Champion, but there was never a doubt in his wire-to-wire 14-second victory at NXN, despite rain drenched conditions none of the Californian teams had ever raced in.
But, this squad was so much more than Nico Young! Senior Jace Aschbrenner ran the fastest time of any team's second scorer in State Meet history as his 14:54 at the California State Championship was the 13th fastest time recorded in the history of the 33 year event. Only one other time in Division II State Meet history would he had not won (Loyola's Elias Gedyon recorded a 14:52 to win in 2010). At NXN, he crossed as the third scorer in the team competition, giving his squad a commanding lead after two scorers (that they never relinquished).
As he was the fastest sophomore at the State Meet (15:10), Colin Sahlman was the third fastest 10th grader at NXN. Enveloped in the Great Oak pack all throughout, he played a huge role in their national title as he edged out Great Oak's top scorer, with their second and third scorers within five seconds of him. Meanwhile, Daniel Appleford was the ninth best sophomore in the race and closed out their scoring with junior Nicholas Goldstein five spots ahead of him. Goldstein was the fifth fastest junior (15:17) at the State Meet while Appleford (15:38) was the fourth fastest sophomore. Furthermore, freshman Leo Young was the fastest freshman (15:42) at the State Championships. As they only graduate two, junior Thomas McDonnell returns in 2020 along with freshmen Lex Young, Aaron Sahlman and Aaron Cantu.
Newbury Park goes into 2020 as heavy favorites to capture a third straight title next year, which would match Jesuit's feat of doing so from 1993-1995. Based on the 2019 State Championships, they have four in the top 18 returners, including two of the top five. They will also go in atop the national rankings. As Great Oak has been THE standard the past five seasons, Newbury Park raised the bar like we've never experienced in California State History.
All State Championship and nationally ranked teams from here on out will always be compared to what Newbury Park accomplished this season!
This 2019 group ended up running the fourth fastest time in Woodward Park Course history and sat atop the national rankings for most of the season. Their 46-144 domination over Jesuit and a stellar field at the State Meet was the greatest margin of victory since Royal's 2005 squad. These accolades will come as bittersweet to the crew from Temecula, as we rest assured that they have reviewed just how close the four point deficit to Newbury Park was at NXN. Down by 52 points at the mile mark, tightening the gap to 18 at the two-mile, they even skimmed the gap from 12 down to four in the last 550 meters
With depth unseen in the history of the sport, they captured the SS-Division 1 title while resting out their top SIX scorers! We marvel at how head coach Doug Soles has artfully mastered the ability of getting the runners (and their families) to buy in to how top runners will only compete in certain meets while keeping so many others in the 'varsity' loop all throughout the season. This is just a glimpse here but 10 boys broke the 15-minute barrier at September's Woodbridge Cross Country Classic. Meanwhile, 13 boys broke the 16-minute threshold on the storied Mt. SAC course with nine achieving the feat on the longer Woodward Park course. Last spring, Great Oak had 42 boys break five minutes for the 1600 meters and 15 boys (11 underclassmen) break 10:10 for the 3200 meters. Your most veteran and successful coaches ever shake their heads in disbelief by the incredible depth this program produces on a yearly basis.
With eye-popping, sub-20 second scoring gaps all throughout the season, Chris Verdugo led this talented senior class. He took over the reins in crossing first for the Wolfpack at North Carolina's Great American Invite, in which they beat several nationally ranked squads. The following week, Verdugo led his squad to the victory over Newbury Park at the Clovis Invite. Meanwhile, he finished just ahead of fellow senior Abbes at the State Meet, 15:10 to 15:12. Abbes was their top scorer at NXN while another Class of '20 stud was Cole Sawires-Yager, who broke 15:14 and crossed with Verdugo at the Clovis Invite. Meanwhile, Aric Reza was also instrumental in breaking 15:15 at the California State Meet as his squad's third scorer. Leandro Candray finished off his career as their fourth scorer at NXN. Replacing this talent will be a challenge but we find ourselves saying this at the end of every season ... .
They, as always, return a strong group for 2020 and are the favorites to repeat for the SS-Division 1 title. Junior Mateo Joseph moved up seven spots in the last 500 meters at NXN to help close the gap and will return. Like Joseph, John Worthy also had two NXN sessions under his belt while Christian Simone, Austin Montez and Scott Kiehn all return. Meanwhile, they owned the top freshman squad in California (if not the nation) this season.
What has become tradition, expect Great Oak to be one of the
top teams in 2020. After winning the
national NXN title in 2015, they had back-to-back sixth place finishes in 2016
and 2017. They now go into 2020 with
back-to-back runner-up spots these past two seasons! The Wolfpack are still the standard but in 2019, they
had some company up top but it took being the greatest team in California State history to join them.