XC Preview: Southern Section - Division 4 Boys

Foothill Tech won the boys Division 4 title at the CIF-State Meet behind front-runners like Oliver Pick (835), Joshua Villasenor (636), Ethan Crouch (633) and Finn Blacker (632). (Photo by DeAnna Turner)

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We move forward with our XC season preview series as it appears there will indeed be some form of a cross country season in the Southern Section this winter. 

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Despite the retirement of Ken Reeves, one of the most successful coaches in state history, the Dragons of Foothill Tech are poised to defend their 2019 title and capture the program's third divisional championship in the past five seasons. We write this with the full understanding that the Southern Section has canceled the post-season in order to allow all teams in the 560-school section that expands over seven counties to be able to maximize their competition calendar set to end March 27. 

While we may not be able to crown division champions based on live competition among all the elite teams, we can -- and likely will -- look at the results of whatever form of resume teams and individuals are able to build this winter and use that data to determine the best when the season is done.

When you return three of the top eight underclassmen going into the season, that is THE definition of a pretty strong advantage!  Add on to the fact that Foothill Tech returns ALL seven from that same squad that also earned the Division IV title with an 18-point victory at the 2019 CIF-State Meet. 

Foothill Tech is one of the top squads in the Southern Section, regardless of division!   

Josh Villasenor placed third at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals while Oliver Pick placed seventh, individually.  Meanwhile, Ethan Crouch placed 13th but came up with his best at the 2019 State Meet with a 14th-place finish.  Add in that Finn Blacker owns a sub-16 minute resume as their fourth returner, the Dragons are loaded. 

The real battle, as we see it, will be for that runner-up spot in the rankings. 

Led by Diego Gonzalez, Ocean View returns four of its top five scorers from a 12th-place squad at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 4 Finals. Gonzalez (Bib 2087) was an individual State Meet qualifier as a sophomore in 2019.  Fillmore and South Pasadena are expected to fight for top-five finishes as well.  Fillmore has qualified for the divisional finals in nine of the past 10 seasons.  

Also in the mix for a top-five finish is the longtime powerhouse, Cathedral. The Phantoms boast a resume that includes six straight trips to the State Meet and seven over the past nine seasons. Cathedral, which finished second to Foothill Tech at the 2019 section division finals, returns most of the squad but will need to replace its top two scorers.   

Burroughs (Ridgecrest) also appeared set to to compete for a State Meet berth (before the postseason was canceled).  With the best group in over a decade, Bryce Hill qualified for the State Meet in 2019 as he placed fifth as an individual before making the podium with a ninth-place finish in Fresno. 

Individually, six of the top nine from the 2019 CIF-SS finals were underclassmen.  Mateo Bianchi of Laguna Beach (15:03.3) was runner-up to JSerra's Anthony Grover at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals.  Bianchi (Bib 835 at right) has played a key role in the Breakers' recent success over the previous three seasons but is one of their few returners from those squads.

As referenced above, Foothill Tech brings back three of the division's best in Villasenor, Pick, and Crouch with Villasenor finishing just behind Bianchi at 15:03.7. 

As a sophomore, Max Sannes of Big Bear came up big with a surprising fourth-place finish (15:12.7) and easily qualified for the State Meet. 

As Sannes (Bib 115 below) was one of the top sophomores in the section at the 2019 division final, Oaks Christian's Hector Martinez was one of the top freshmen (15:32.0) and qualified for the State Meet with his ninth-place finish.

Barstow's Jeffrey Holliday and Yucca Valley's Elijah Ocegueda are also among the top 10 returners. Holliday qualified with his team in 2019 while Ocegueda qualified for the State Meet as an individual.  

Of note, the division took a hit with three of its best coaches moving on.  In addition to Reeves' retirement from Foothill Tech, Marty Dugard has moved from JSerra to mentor the distance groups at Santa Margarita and Yucca Valley's Jay Stepp is not coaching this year.  

Other Returning Top-25 Finishers From the 2019 CIF-SS Division 4 Finals

17Rodrigo Arias11Barstow High School (SS)15:46.1017
18Thomas Long11Riverside Prep (SS)15:47.900
22Alex Spink11Big Bear High (SS)15:56.2021
24Will Garrell11El Segundo High School (SS)16:02.5023

Returning Top-50 Southern Section Finishers From The 2019 CIF-State Meet

5Joshua Villasenor11Foothill Technology (SS)15:28.104
9Bryce Hill11Burroughs Ridgecrest (SS)15:36.600
10Mateo Bianchi11Laguna Beach High (SS)15:36.807
14Ethan Crouch11Foothill Technology (SS)15:48.0010
16Oliver Pick11Foothill Technology (SS)15:52.4011
26Jeffrey Holliday11Barstow High School (SS)16:05.5015
30Finn Blacker11Foothill Technology (SS)16:09.2019
33Diego Gonzalez10Ocean View High (SS)16:11.700
42Hector Martinez9Oaks Christian High (SS)16:15.5028
43Max Sannes10Big Bear High (SS)16:16.100
45Elijah Ocegueda11Yucca Valley High (SS)16:18.700
49Will Garrell11El Segundo High School (SS)16:26.7032


Inserted photos by DeAnna Turner and Jeffrey Parenti