San Diego XC Champion Eyes End Of Roller-Coaster Ride

San Diegan Alaina Zamorano has the second-fastest 5000-meter time among returning small school cross country runners in California and is the No. 6 returner in Division V from the 2019 CIF-State Cross Country Championships. (Photos by Clark Kranz)


EL CAJON -- Bored to death, Christian High's Alaina Zamorano decided to see just what kind of shape she was in after missing the entire 2020 spring track season like every other high school athlete in California due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"One of my coaches, Mike Kirwan, plotted out a 1500-meter course on the street," said Zamorano, who is entering her senior year at the private school in El Cajon. "It went up a little, down a little and was flat at the end."

OK, track and field purists needn't get in a lather over the fact it wasn't on the track. It had up and down hills, which most runners know are a lot like wind -- having it behind you doesn't make up for running directly into it.

She didn't run it for publication, anyway, just as a gauge and to have some fun.

Some fun. How about a 4:34 for the metric mile, which she and Kirwan converted to a 4:55 for 1600 meters.

"We made it fun -- I wore my uniform and everything," said Zamorano, who at the end of 2019 decided to run 800 meters in the San Diego Section championships, finishing third and qualifying for the State Meet at 2:15.00.

"I wanted to try a different distance (than 800)."

That 4:55.0 for 1600-meters would have placed Zamorano fourth on the San Diego Section list for 2019 -- behind the 4:48.34 run by state 3200-meter champion Kristen Fahy of La Costa Canyon -- and among the top 15 of returning California girls from 2019.

It was clearly superior to the 5:03.70 Zamorano had posted her sophomore season, a PR that placed second at the CIF-San Diego Section Division 2 finals. While her future in the four-lapper on the track appears bright, she is already well established for what she has accomplished on the cross country course.

Zamorano is a three-time CIF-San Diego Section Division V champion in cross country, who has finished no lower than 10th in her three trips to the CIF-State Championships. But any momentum she may have had coming off her junior XC season looking toward improvements on the oval was sapped by the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out the spring track and field season and so far has forced the 2020-21 cross country season another five months into the future. 

Zamorano is no different from thousands of high school athletes across the Golden State, who have struggled through the shutdown of athletics, in-person education and on-campus socialization. 

"No track this spring was not super," said Zamorano, who at least found out she was in the best shape of her life while training with Point Loma Nazarene quarter-miler Madelynn Worley. "We don't even have a track at Christian High. The gyms -- closed. Church -- closed. Running on the track -- closed."

That's not all.

"I absolutely hate online learning," said Zamorano, a straight-A student. "I like to ask questions, interact with the teachers. There is no accountability online and I believe that hurts some people. Besides, if we go online, I won't get to hang out with my friends, which is very important."

Notice she said "if." As of the start of August, Christian High was still planning modified on-campus classes, but that could change, too.

Zamorano says she had been working out six days a week and lifting weights in anticipation of the XC season starting in August. 

When the state CIF announced in mid-July that three seasons of sport would be condensed into two with cross country competition starting after January 1, she said she had mixed feelings.

"Not knowing something stresses me out," said Zamorano, equating everything from last February until now a roller-coaster ride. "At least now I know when we'll start for sure. I'll probably power down some in building back toward mid-December. It's not what I hoped for my senior season. I've attended Christian since kindergarten and this is my last year with my friends.

"And we all can hope that maybe things will get better and we can start training a little early."

One can understand Zamorano's anxiety; she has been a consistent cross country state meet qualifier, placing sixth at the CIF-State Championships as a freshman (18:33.5) when she was unbeaten heading into the race at Woodward Park, 10th as a sophomore (19:10.9) and eighth as a junior (18:42.9).

She says the coronavirus has also wreaked havoc with her college plans.

"All of the colleges were closed, so you couldn't take any recruiting trips," said Zamorano of schools like Baylor, Liberty, San Diego State, Oregon, UC San Diego, Purdue and Boston University that have been in contact with her.

"I'll just continue to work the hills around Christian High like I always do and be as ready as I can for cross country in January."