XC Preview: Central Section Girls

The Central Section is loaded with talented young runners including (from left) Sydney Sundgren, Taylor Jones, Miliana Perez and Erica Nyberg. (Photo by DeAnna Turner)

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We move forward with our XC season preview series in the hopes that there is some form of a 2020-21 season and out of respect and appreciation for all the athletes and programs whose past results and future prospects warrant recognition.

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Like every other section, the Central Section is at the mercy of the California Department of Public Health and COVID-19 with the first day of a possible season right around the corner. While the Central Section is hoping to be able to launch its season as soon as possible, it did make the difficult decision last week to cancel the CS championships. This comes following the Dec. 1 announcement that the CIF-State had cancelled Regional and State Championships for all Season 1 sports.

The Central Section falls under the CDPH's San Joaquin Valley Region as it relates to impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ICU capacity. 

Once the CDPH Stay at Home order is lifted for the San Joaquin Valley Region, cross country may take place even if counties within the boarders of the Central Section remain in the widespread (purple) designation under the state's colored tier structure indicating the degree of impact of the virus. Additional county and school/school district approvals would still be required but clearing the SAHO is the first big step to getting athletes back on the line and back in competition. 

With that we take a closer look at returning girls in the Central Section.


All five individual winners from the 2019 Central Section Championships were seniors but that doesn't mean the future of girls cross county in the CS isn't incredibly bright.

Take for instance that the Buchanan team that won another Division 1 title, went on to a remarkable result at the State Final and a fifth-place finish at Team Nationals in Portland, did so with only one scoring senior.

Also note that from the lists of returning girls who placed among the top 25 at the section championships, 28 were freshmen and another 28 were sophomores. 


The freshman parade begins in the large school division where Erica Nyberg (Clovis East), Sydney Sundgren (Buchanan), Taylor Jones (Arroyo Grande) and Caroline Mendyk (Buchanan) went 2-3-4-7 behind graduated champion Corie Smith (Buchanan), who won for the second year in a row and third time in four years. 

Sundgren is the top returner for Buchanan which not only won its fourth consecutive CS title but also pulled the upset at the State Meet, beating Great Oak by seven points to snap its seven-year winning streak. It was a young lineup behind Smith, Sundgren and Mendyk contributing to both victories.

Kaylee Elliott, now a junior, was sixth at the section meet as the No. 3 scorer with Mendyk next followed by Morgan Hutchison, now a senior, who was 12th and the No. 5 scorer. At State, Grace Hutchison, now a sophomore, was the No. 3 runner behind Smith and Sundgren with Mendyk and Morgan Hutchison next. 

Miliana Perez, a junior at Clovis North, was fifth at the section final and seventh at State, Nyberg was 11th and Jones was 15th at State. 

Also back for North along with Perez is sophomore Ashlyn Leath (16th), the team's No. 2 scorer.

Among top-25 girls at the section final, joining Jones at Arroyo Grande is Jenna Lenay, a sophomore, who was 11th, and Arabella Edler, a senior, who was 25th, and the team's Nos. 2 and 3 scorers.

Clovis West was fifth out of the 11 teams that scored at sectionals but its top four scorers are scheduled to be back, led by rising juniors Kalei Aoki-Chance (14th) and Madison Galetti (19th) along with the addition of standout freshman Emma Connolly. 

Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 1 final

10Hilda Gonzalez11McFarland High School (CS)18:46.5610
18Maddie Baytosh10Centennial High School (CS)19:51.7118
21Aislin Taylor11Monache High (CS)19:57.8421
22Hannah Mcclain11Centennial High School (CS)20:12.9022
23Jada Hardwick9Clovis High School (CS)20:14.7623
24Diana Cortes10Madera South (CS)20:14.8424


San Luis Obispo was a three-point winner over Sanger with Paso Robles only another three points back in third. It's no surprise that 15 girls among top-25 finishers are returning for that trio of teams. 

SLO, which won for the second year in a row, had just one senior among its five scorers at sections and returns seniors Grace Rubio (4th), Shaylee Grimm (7th), Grace Greenelsh (14th), and junior Violet Emerson (22nd). Rubio placed 23rd and Grimm 30th as SLO placed 18th at State.

There were no seniors among Sanger's five scorers, led by Nia Lamas, now a junior, who placed 3rd in 18:32.28, senior Rebeca Coronado (5th), junior Sienna Bianchi (13th), senior Jessica Recinos (16th), and sophomore Anayacsi Diaz (25th). Lamas placed 39th at State and Coronado was 55th as Sanger placed 20th.

And then there's Paso Robles, which had six finishers among the top 23 who are ALL returning. Junior Charlotte Castelli (pictured) leads that group. She placed second at the section final nearly 15 seconds behind champion Unique Ford, a graduate of Madera, who won for a second year in a row. Also scoring for Paso Robles was now-seniors Madeline Loff (6th) and Grace Chamberlain (18th), junior Gabriella Wilson (19th) and sophomore Sydney Moore (20th). Junior Clara Lundy, who placed 23rd, ran No. 6 for PR. Castelli was 47th at State.

Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 2 final

10Julia Martinez11Madera High School (CS)19:39.4210
17Cadence Estermann10Golden West High (CS)20:13.3417
21Paola Sanchez11Madera High School (CS)20:30.9721


Edison was a three-point winner over Corcoran with Highland another seven points back in third. Edison had just one senior among its five scorers and returns top finisher Sarah Renberg, a senior who placed third overall. Senior Kennedy Jennings (21st), sophomore Emily Chavira (25th) and junior Gaby Chielpegian (28th) were the team's Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 scorers. 

Senior Paulina Guerrero was 6th for Corcoran among five scorers scheduled back for 2020-21. That lineup includes seniors Arlene Magana 13th, junior Gabriella Avila (18th), senior Sherlyn Hernandez (26th) and junior Brandi Valdez (39th). Guerrero was 29th at State.

Highland returns two of the top five and and three of the top 11 from the 2019 section final. Haley Ulloa (pictured), now a senior, placed second behind champion Jessica Valles, a graduate of Sunnyside. Senior Neyda Martinez was fifth and sophomore Lianna Guerra was 11th.  Ulloa went on to placed 54th at State.

Another in that long list of girls in the class of 2023 is Elena Baltazar, the top returner for Independence, who placed 4th at the section final and 45th at State.

Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 3 final

8Angelige Cavazos11El Diamante High School (CS)20:16.510
9Natalie Gonzalez11Hanford West High School (CS)20:19.208
12Maria Guerra11Sunnyside High (CS)20:32.2211
14Isabella Cruz10Kerman High (CS)20:47.4813
15Ariyana Guzman10South High Bakersfield (CS)20:49.410
17Yareli Lorenzano11Delano High School (CS)20:52.7215
19Joslen Jimenez9Porterville High (CS)20:56.3517
20Paola Rangel11Reedley High School (CS)21:05.7718
22Maraitzel Moreno10Righetti (Ernest) High (CS)21:09.8220
24Peyton Carrera10Righetti (Ernest) High (CS)21:10.8422


Nipomo was an 18-point winner over Yosemite for the team title in a division where there were only four seniors among the top 25, including Bishop Union grad Rachel Fitt, whose 18:45.00 was 3.89 seconds ahead of runner-up Clover Cicoletti, a rising junior at Yosemite.

Cicoletti (pictured) had a faster time at the section final than she did on the same Woodward Park 5K course at State, placing 40th. Rhiannon Walker, a rising sophomore at Fresno, placed third at sections was 20th at State running some 25 seconds faster. Sierra Burror, a rising senior at Bishop Union, placed fourth at sections in 19:20.01 but improved significantly at State, placing 15th overall in 18:29.30. 

Returners from Nipomo's lineup includes all five scorers in junior Illiana Murguia (6th), sophomores Kayden Sanders (12th), Itzel Hinojosa (16th), Ximena Hinojosa (17th) and Kate Barnett (21st)

Yosemite returns four scorers behind Cicoletti in senior Emily Rich (10th), Jocelyn Stansberry (11th) and Jaiden Stansberry (32nd) and junior Audrey Scott (33rd). 

Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 4 final
5Kailey Kolesar9Tehachapi High School (CS)19:35.150
7Lily Baloian10Fresno High (CS)20:06.506
8Sonia Wasserman11Orcutt Academy (CS)20:11.527
9Mikaela Ortega11Cesar E. Chavez High School (CS)20:14.390
13Rosalind Dixon11Exeter High School (CS)20:33.150
14Caliska Avila11Washington Union High (CS)20:36.0011
18Julissa Avila10Farmersville High School (CS)21:06.8315
19Devyn Kendrick9Orcutt Academy (CS)21:07.4716
20Melissa Lopez9Roosevelt High (CS)21:19.4117
22Caitlin Chea9Central Valley Christian (CS)21:27.8919
24Christina Benitez11Mira Monte (CS)21:30.6521


Mammoth, a 19-point winner for the team title, returns seniors Lizzetta Dardenne and Emma Dardenne, the Nos. 2 and 4 scorers at the section finals and the Nos. 3 and 4 scorers as Mammoth placed 12th at the State Meet. Junior Laurel Wight was the team's No. 5 scorer.

As a freshman, Mickayla Mejia (pictured) placed second at the section final for runner-up Sierra Pacific, which returns all scorers. Mejia ran the Woodward Park 5K course in 20:09.74, behind graduated champion Jordyn Harper of Mammoth, who claimed the title in 19:51.56.

Junior Emma Howe was 13th, senior Emma Marella was 17th, sophomore Abigail McKean was 18th and junior Keira Taksa was 27th. 


Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 5 final

6Demaris Lopez9Fowler High (CS)21:00.686
8Celeste Ramos10Granite Hills High (CS)21:20.197
10Zoey Cardosa10San Joaquin Memorial (CS)21:51.239
12Gabriela Gutierrez10Fowler High (CS)22:02.0810
14Alexa Gomez9Summit Charter Collegiate (CS)22:36.250
15Emily Moreno10Riverdale High (CS)22:41.8612
16Demaree Lewis10Summit Charter Collegiate (CS)22:42.320
19Ana Wanner11Lee Vining High (SS)23:15.550
21Nicole Crow9Fowler High (CS)23:27.6116
22Lizeth Solorzano11Chowchilla High (CS)23:30.800
23Kassidy Afonin10Liberty Madera Ranchos (CS)23:34.7517
24Laurea Wanner11Lee Vining High (SS)23:35.050
25Juliana Gutierrez9San Joaquin Memorial (CS)23:36.1618


Inserted photos by DeAnna Turner.