XC Preview: Sac-Joaquin Section Boys

Perennial power Jesuit graduated its three-time section champion but remains stacked for the future.

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This post was updated to add an omitted athlete, as well as to note a couple top returners from the section championships JV 5K race.

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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 nearly 32,000 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.

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 and hurdles at the county, local and school-district level still need to be cleared before any competition is approved.

We present this SJS boys cross country preview in the hopes that there is some form of a 2020-21 season and to recognize returning athletes whose performance at the final meets of the 2019-20 season warrant recognition. 




Matt Strangio, one of California's all-time great distance runners, led Jesuit to a 28th Sac-Joaquin Section divisional title while winning his third individual championship before going on to win a second consecutive State Meet title in Division I. Strangio's days at Jesuit are over but the juggernaut program under legendary coach Walt Lange rolls on. 

Back to take the line in leading the post-Strangio era at Jesuit are rising senior Michael Chambers, rising sophomore Jacob Swanson, rising junior Braden King and rising senior Spencer Pickren. Those are three of the scorers from the section final and five returners who placed among the top 11 at the SJ final where Jesuit put up 28 points and had a 1:09 1-5 split. The trio of Swanson, King and Pickren crossed within 6.60 seconds of each other.

In order, Pickren, Chambers, Swanson and King are returning scorers from the State Meet, where Jesuit placed second to Great Oak (SS) and beat Bellarmine Prep (CC) by one point.

Overlooked in earlier versions of this post is senior Ajani Salcido, who transferred into Jesuit in 2019 and ran JV cross country as a junior. His time in the JV race on the Willow Hills 5K course at the SJ Championships of 16:21.0 would have slotted fifth in the D-1 varsity race and was a top-10 time across all races on the course that day. It is the No. 4 time among returners across all divisions.

Salcido (at right in photo) has blossomed into the the team's top returner, leading an already deep Jesuit lineup that warrants strong national-ranking consideration.

On the track this summer, Salcido took part in the Sub-4 Mile and Independence Day Mile in Eugene. In the latter race, he crossed in 4:11.86, just 4.89 seconds behind winner John Lester (Amador Valley/NC).

Davis Senior HS, 28 points back in second at the 2019 section final, returns rising junior Zachary Ayers, rising sophomore Ryan Mitchell and rising senior Ansel Tucker -- all scorers and top-18 finishers -- from the section final. In addition to two others who took the line in a pair of rising juniors Tavi Maes and Luca Maes. Rising senior Hayden Tam is the No. 3 returner from the JV final.

Ayers was 45th at the State Meet (33rd among scoring runners) as Davis placed 10th. 

Rising junior Joseph Wiley was fifth at the section meet as McClatchy placed third. He is joined by a pair of rising seniors in Parker Van Ostrand and Damon Lin, who placed among the top 23 at the section final. Wiley was 63rd at State. 

Other top-25 returners in Division I from the SJ Final

14Noah Pagaran10Lincoln High Stockton (SJ)16:48.1014
19Eric Anderson11Folsom HS (SJ)17:06.6019
20Garrett Stiehl11Cosumnes Oaks (SJ)17:08.9020
21Joseph Passalaqua11Rocklin High (SJ)17:14.3021
25Donovan Guertin11Pleasant Grove (SJ)17:20.6025


Whitney, a 20-point winner over Vacaville in capturing its second consecutive title, was senior-dominated in 2019. Only rising senior Jason Finta, the team's No. 5 scorer at the section final, returns. Another senior, Aidan Ransford, is the No. 2 returner from the JV final.

The top returner in D-2 in the SJ is Kellen Steplight, a rising junior at Vacaville. Steplight (pictured) was third at the SJ final and 34th at State. 

Jimmie Summers, a rising senior at Buhach Colony, was sixth at SJ and 85th at State, as the section's No. 2 returner from that meet. Oakmont's Julian Doak stood out as the only ninth-grader among the top 25 at the section meet where he placed 13th, 10th among scoring runners. 

Bella Vista is the only D-2 school with more than one returner from among the top 25 placers in 2019 with a pair of rising seniors, Connor Harrod and Bruce Marlatt, who placed 23rd and 25th, respectively. 

Other top-25 returners in Division 2 from the SJ Final

5Dean Mclane10Mira Loma High (SJ)16:39.900
9Joshua Hernandez11West (Merrill F.) High (SJ)16:49.700
14Adrian Gutierrez11Elk Grove High (SJ)16:59.900
18Frank Ramisch11Ponderosa High School (SJ)17:08.1014
19Colin Wong11Oakmont High (SJ)17:10.5015
24Max Clark11Granite Bay High School (SJ)17:16.5020


Unlike Whitney in Division 2, East Union returns its top four scorers from the 2019 championship team, the programs first since the 1997-98 year. Leading that group is rising junior Johnny Sandoval, who placed fourth at the section final and 26th at the State Meet. Also scheduled back for East Union is rising sophomore Alex Cuevas (10th at the SJ Final), and a pair of rising juniors in Cooper Freeman (15th) and Maury Ortiz (18th). Ortiz placed 66th (48th among scorers) as East Union placed sixth at the State Meet with a 45-second 1-5 split.

Atwater, 18 points back in second at the section final, returns all five scorers in rising seniors Daniel Ramirez (13th), Zachary Pickle (14th) and Eric Maldonado (23rd), rising junior Tanner Bristow (17th) and rising sophomore Colton Dukes (20th). Atwater was 16th at the State Meet while crossing with a 17-second 1-5 split. 

The top returning runner from the SJ Final is rising senior Jake Slade of Nevada Union. Slade was second at the section meet. His 2021 classmate Antonio Valenti placed ninth. 

Placer placed third at the section final, seven points behind Atwater. Rising junior Wyatt Hamilton was third overall at sections.

Other top-25 returners in Division 3 from the SJ Final

11Simon Appel10Oakdale High (SJ)17:10.8010
19Evan Donner11Placer High School (SJ)17:30.3018
22Garret Laplante11Del Oro High (SJ)17:41.4021


Calaveras won the SJ team title and placed fourth at State but returns just one runner from among the top 25 at SJ in rising senior Jaime Espirtu, who was the No. 3 scorer at sections and No. 5 scorer at State. Rising junior Garrett Hesser was the team's No. 4 scorer at the State Meet.

Only in Division 4 does the 2019 champion return for 2020-21 and that's Godebo Chapman (pictured) of West Campus. The rising senior is also the section's top returner from the State D-IV final, where he placed seventh. Rising senior Ben Nixon, 24th at the section final, is another top returner for West Campus. 

El Dorado, 22 points behind Calaveras in the team competition, had three returners who placed among the top 25 at the section final in rising senior Dominic Raffetto (17th), rising sophomore Benjamin Sallee (23rd) and rising junior Tobin Coleman (25th). Raffetto was 63rd in the State Final and Sallee was 84th as the top two scorers for El Dorado, which placed 14th with a 25-second 1-5 split.

Hughson, third at the SJ Final, returns rising senior Dario Salinas (20th), rising sophomore Jace Fife (21st) among top-25 finishers.  They were the team's Nos. 2 and 3 scorers at sections. Salinas was 67th at State.

Rising junior Daniel Winter of St. Mary's, was sixth in the section final and 21st at State. Also back for St. Mary's is Elijah Sulivan, a rising junior, was 22nd at sections.

Rising senior Clayton Franco and rising junior Adin Dibble went 4-5 at the section final for Sonora. 

Other top-25 returners in Division 4 from the SJ Final

8Ryan Dong10Christian Brothers High School (SJ)16:56.008
14Adan Salgado11Riverbank High School (SJ)17:10.0012
18Abrahim Alsaidi11Ripon High (SJ)17:25.700


Tioga's Jaydon Spires was nearly aa 26-second winner in capturing his second consecutive Division 5 title. Spires has graduated leaving Evan Espinoza of Waterford as the top returner from the SJ Finals. Espinoza (pictured) was third as part of a 2-3 finish with 2020 Jonathan Staley in leading Waterford to a runner-up finish in the team competition. Rising senior Lucas Real placed 24th for Waterford.

Defending champion Colfax returns four scorers from its fourth section title and first since 2008, led by rising junior Jacob Kolster, who placed eighth in the section race and 87th at State as Colfax placed 18th. Also back for Colfax is rising sophomore Noah Starbuck (14th), rising junior Garrett Reinhard (16th) and another rising sophomore, Logan Biddle (18th). 

Rising senior Matthew Hardin, who placed fifth at the section final, and rising senior Nathan Sindlinger, who was 22nd, return to lead Woodland Christian, which placed third. 

Big Valley appears poised to challenge the best in the division with four top-25 returners, seniors Daniel Lopez (9th), Robert Pacheco (11th), Peter Pacheco (17th) and rising junior Aiden Grossman (19th). 

Other top-25 returners in Division 5 from the SJ Final

4Carson Edwards10Millennium Charter School (SJ)17:29.703
10Hakyeom Park11Ripon Christian (SJ)18:18.300
12Joshua Shelby11Vacaville Christian Academy (SJ)18:27.9010
13David Lund11Turlock Christian (SJ)18:34.5011
15Justin Macdonald11Delta High School (SJ)18:39.200
23Jack Headrick9Capital Christian (SJ)19:11.1020

Photos by DeAnna Turner, Daniel Tyree, James Leash and Pat Rhames.