XC Preview: Sac-Joaquin Section Girls

In a section loaded with talented young returners, Riley Chamberlain (left) and Alexandra Klos (center) are defending section and state champions and Kate Joaquin (right) is a Foot Locker National Finalist.

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We continue to remain hopeful that there will be some form of a high school cross country season this winter as Californians continue to work toward reducing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic that has now taken the lives of more than 31,100 in the Golden State.

Amid positive reports this week from the California Department of Public Health was the removal of the Greater Sacramento Region from a Regional Stay at Home Order, "due to four-week projections that the Region's ICU availability will be at 15% or greater."

And that's a major first step of many toward getting our high school cross country runners back on the line. 


The structure of what a cross country season would look like this winter in the SJS is to be determined and cross-county restrictions outlined by the CDPH's return-to-play guidance will likely create challenges in some leagues, per a memo posted last month on the SJS website by Commissioner Michael S. Garrison:

"Due to the current travel restrictions, league opponents may not be able to play each other. Season 1 teams should schedule the contests they are able to play following the travel guidelines. Some leagues may be able to contest a full season, and that is recommended if possible."

Cross country is among the sports in Season 1, as designated by the State-CIF in July when 2020-21 sports were consolidated from the normal three seasons into two. The original projected start date around the first of the calendar year was subsequently pushed back to Jan. 25 at the earliest following a late-fall surge of the virus. The status of the Jan. 25 start date is to be determined. 


In order to look forward, we first must look back to November of 2019, the last season of high school cross country in CA. And what a year it was for teams and athletes in the SJ!

In 2019, girls from the Sac-Joaquin Section won two division titles at the State Meet and had two other top-five finishes. 

Alexandra Klos, a rising junior at Vista del Lago, came off the soccer field to put up jaw-dropping performances in winning division titles in both the section and at state. In winning the Division II title at the State Meet, Klos covered the 5000-meter course at Woodward Park in Fresno in 17:13.10, the sixth fastest time ever by a girls in D-II. 

In D-III, two-time SJ champion Riley Chamberlain, now a rising junior at Del Oro, won her second consecutive title at the State Meet, rolling over the 5K course in 17:16.00, the third-fastest time ever by a girl in D-III. 

Madison Kackley, a rising senior at Gregori (pictured), won the SJ large-school title by 25 seconds and went on to place fifth in the D-I race at the State Meet. She is the third-fastest returner from that field for the current season, however the CIF-State has already announced the cancelation of a championship meet in 2020-21. 

Cate Joaquin, a rising junior at St. Francis, was second to Klos at the SJ Final and fourth at State. She is the third-fastest returner from that field. 

Yes, the future is bright along the cross country landscape in the SJ. How bright?

Based on results from the 2019 SJ Finals, the majority of finishers among the top 15 across the five divisions are back for 2020-21. There are 61 girls across the five divisions who placed among the top 15 who return. Of those 61, 44 are either juniors or sophomores in 2020-21. Kackley is the only returning champion who is a senior this year. 


While Kackley is the top returning individual in Division 1 at the section level, Oak Ridge is the top team, coming off a third consecutive SJ title. Oak Ridge returns five of the top 14 from the section final, led by rising senior Abigail Fletcher (pictured) and rising junior Ava Maier. That duo placed 2-3 at the section final and 23-24 at State in leading Oak Ridge to a ninth-place finish among 24 teams. 

Other returners for Oak Ridge based on top-14 section placing are rising junior Kayla Rutz (7th at SJS), rising sophomore Quinn Walker (9th) and rising senior Tiana Oliver (14th).

Runner-up McClatchy, returns rising sophomore Anna McNatt (4th) and rising senior Julia Heckey (12th). McNatt was the top freshman in D-1 last season and No. 2 in the SJ based on times at the section final. Third-place Davis returns rising sophomore Abby Carroll (13th) and three others who placed among the top 22 at sections: rising senior Corinne Dejong (18th), rising junior Emily Castles (21st) and rising sophomore Norah Dulaney (22nd).

Among those joining Kackley as top returners for Gregori is rising sophomore Chloe Cook, who was eighth at the section final and another rising sophomore, Lexie Gomez, who was second in the D-1 frosh/soph 2-mile at the section final behind Pleasant Grove rising sophomore Allison Myers, whose 13:42.20 was the fastest time among all the F/S races.

Here are other top-25 returners the SJ Division 1 Final
6Natalie Harper11Cosumnes Oaks (SJ)19:34.006
11Annalise Gonzales11Rocklin High (SJ)19:48.300
15Skyler Tatum10Lincoln High Stockton (SJ)20:00.5014
19Sanya Gowda10Folsom HS (SJ)20:12.8018
20Emily Aronhalt10Inderkum High (SJ)20:19.800
24Emily Eddy11Cosumnes Oaks (SJ)20:40.6022
25Fatima Chavez11Turlock High (SJ)20:41.4023


In Division 2, behind Klos and Joaquin was Whitney's Katie Kopec, the fastest freshman at the meet by more than 13 seconds, just missing a sub-19 by .40. She placed 24th at State.

Joaquin, who went on to compete at Foot Locker Nationals, led St. Francis to a fourth consecutive title and 13th dating to 1989-90. She is the only returner from that team who placed among the top 15 at the section final, a team that placed sixth at the State Meet, but five of the seven who took the line at sections and three of the scorers return: rising sophomore Daphne Witherell (16th), rising junior Tatiana Cornejo (19th), rising senior Hanna Hekkanen (22nd) and rising junior Claire Silva (23rd). Additionally, rising sophomore Paige Quigley was second in the F/S race with the No. 4 overall time. 

Vista del Lago, which placed third at SJ and ninth at State, also returns rising senior Anna Vogtmann (4th). Rio Americano, which placed second at SJ and 11th at State, returns rising sophomore Olivia Schlieman and rising junior Kaylee Barnes.

Here are other top-25 returners the SJ Division 2 Final

5Alexa Amador10Rodriguez (Angelo) High School (SJ)19:17.200
9Kate Kimball9Rodriguez (Angelo) High School (SJ)19:35.400
13Mia Hirsch10Oakmont High (SJ)19:47.8011
14Carly Foster9Granite Bay High School (SJ)20:02.6012
17Katie Newton11Rio Americano High (SJ)20:05.7015
18Jessica Becker11Whitney High (SJ)20:06.9016
20Norah Courtney11Vacaville High School (SJ)20:29.6018
21Alex Miller11Granite Bay High School (SJ)20:30.7019
24Leila Swenson10Bella Vista High School (SJ)20:40.6022
25Kali Anema11Tokay High School (SJ)20:43.000


Del Oro put up 42 points in a runaway victory in Division 3, led by Chamberlain, rising senior Hannah Wirth and rising junior Emilie Merz. That trio went 1-2-3 at the SJ final and helped Del Oro to a fifth place finish at State. Individually, Wirth (pictured) was 24th at State. Additionally, Chloe Jeppson a rising senior, was 16th at SJ.

Nevada Union, 21 points back in the SJ final, also returns a solid trio at the front in rising senior Mackenzie Morgan, rising sophomore Megan Schreck and rising senior Sephora Wontor. Those three went 5-6-7 with a 19-second gap at the SJ Final. Nevada Union was 10th at State. 

Atwater, which placed third in the section race, returns rising sophomore Alexis Stubbs (9th), rising senior Elisabeth Garner (11th), rising junior Cristal Santoyo (18th), and another pair of rising sophomores in Yessica Lopez (22nd) and Allison Garner (23rd).

Here are other top-25 returners the SJ Division 3 Final
4Isabel Perez - Zoghbi10Merced High (SJ)20:04.504
8Hannah Beth Norman10Oakdale High (SJ)20:35.108
12Aryanna Sandoval10Los Banos High (SJ)20:59.2012
14Celeste Magana - Casillas10Merced High (SJ)21:06.0014
15Crystal Hernandez9Los Banos High (SJ)21:11.5015
17Emma Howard11Wood (Will C.) High (SJ)21:14.0017
19Constance O'Neal10Placer High School (SJ)21:30.5019
21Haleigh Humble10Oakdale High (SJ)21:35.3021
24Kassidy Fmura9Oakdale High (SJ)21:46.1024
25Jordan Wilson10Yuba City High (SJ)21:49.5025


Girls in the Class of 2023 won both of the section's smallest divisions. Brianna Personius of Sonora (pictured) won in D-4 and McKenna Lechner of Foresthill won in D-5.

Personius held off rising Woodland junior Mahalia Quintana by just 1.7 seconds with another freshman, Alicia Romani of Christian Brothers, well back in third. Personius went on to place 17th at State with Romani 24th and Quintana 41st.

Ripon, a five-point winner over El Dorado in capturing the girls first section title, is led by rising senior Laila Irigoyen (12th) and rising sophomore Annie Wild (14th). That tandem went 12-14 overall and 6-7 among scorers.

El Dorado returns rising junior Chloe Gautschi (5th), Sophia Dufour (15th), another in that deep class of 2023 girls, and rising junior Hannah Crone (25th).

Also back for Sonora is rising sophomore Madison Clement (16th)

Here are other top-25 returners the SJ Division 4 Final
7Sofia Vasquez10Summerville High (SJ)20:24.300
8Katarina Borchin11Calaveras High School (SJ)20:36.600
9Janiah Basco9Weston Ranch High School (SJ)20:48.600
10Brianna Briones11Escalon High School (SJ)21:04.700
13Maya Gomez10Livingston High (SJ)21:41.700
17Jessica Sime10Union Mine High (SJ)21:56.900
18Taylor Scheuber10Hughson High (SJ)21:58.709
19Malia Gay11Christian Brothers High School (SJ)22:01.0010
21Jenna Martinez10Christian Brothers High School (SJ)22:18.5012
22Sonja Mulhair9Amador High School (SJ)22:18.7013
24Karina Duran10Livingston High (SJ)22:25.400


In Division 5, despite Lechner's 24-second victory, Foresthill came up 13 points short of the team title behind Colfax, which returns its Nos. 1, 3 and 4 scorers among the top 25 at the SJ Final. The top two, of course, are in that Class of 2023: Gabriella Bitner, who placed sixth overall and Mari Ziegler, who was 14th. The other is rising junior Kara Dierssen (21st).

Also back for Foresthill among the top 25 are rising juniors Liliana Watkins (9th) and Makayla Stallman (17th). 

Section champion Lechner (pictured) placed 33rd at State and SJ runner-up Anna Rose of Argonaut was 48th. 

Vacaville Christian also returns two runners from among the top 15 in rising junior Laura Everett (7th) and rising sophomore Katrina Husby (12th).

Here are other top-25 returners the SJ Division 5 Final
4Ashley Sams10Central Catholic (SJ)21:58.103
5Annabelle Laputz11Forest Lake Christian (SJ)21:58.600
10Alma Gonzalez11Delta High School (SJ)22:39.008
11Johana Perez10Turlock Christian (SJ)22:49.700
13Monica Gutierrez10Waterford High (SJ)23:04.8010
15Maya De Jong9Ripon Christian (SJ)23:13.900
16Elle Van Wyngarden11Ripon Christian (SJ)23:15.000
18Elle Hollinger10Delta High School (SJ)23:43.7013
19Alex Espinosa11Holt Academy (SJ)23:59.200
24Katelyn Ocampo11Leroy Greene Academy24:18.400

Photos by James Leash and Daniel Tyree