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.
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
|10||Hilda Gonzalez||11||McFarland High School (CS)||18:46.56||10|
|18||Maddie Baytosh||10||Centennial High School (CS)||19:51.71||18|
|21||Aislin Taylor||11||Monache High (CS)||19:57.84||21|
|22||Hannah Mcclain||11||Centennial High School (CS)||20:12.90||22|
|23||Jada Hardwick||9||Clovis High School (CS)||20:14.76||23|
|24||Diana Cortes||10||Madera South (CS)||20:14.84||24|
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
|10||Julia Martinez||11||Madera High School (CS)||19:39.42||10|
|17||Cadence Estermann||10||Golden West High (CS)||20:13.34||17|
|21||Paola Sanchez||11||Madera High School (CS)||20:30.97||21|
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
|8||Angelige Cavazos||11||El Diamante High School (CS)||20:16.51||0|
|9||Natalie Gonzalez||11||Hanford West High School (CS)||20:19.20||8|
|12||Maria Guerra||11||Sunnyside High (CS)||20:32.22||11|
|14||Isabella Cruz||10||Kerman High (CS)||20:47.48||13|
|15||Ariyana Guzman||10||South High Bakersfield (CS)||20:49.41||0|
|17||Yareli Lorenzano||11||Delano High School (CS)||20:52.72||15|
|19||Joslen Jimenez||9||Porterville High (CS)||20:56.35||17|
|20||Paola Rangel||11||Reedley High School (CS)||21:05.77||18|
|22||Maraitzel Moreno||10||Righetti (Ernest) High (CS)||21:09.82||20|
|24||Peyton Carrera||10||Righetti (Ernest) High (CS)||21:10.84||22|
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.
|5||Kailey Kolesar||9||Tehachapi High School (CS)||19:35.15||0|
|7||Lily Baloian||10||Fresno High (CS)||20:06.50||6|
|8||Sonia Wasserman||11||Orcutt Academy (CS)||20:11.52||7|
|9||Mikaela Ortega||11||Cesar E. Chavez High School (CS)||20:14.39||0|
|13||Rosalind Dixon||11||Exeter High School (CS)||20:33.15||0|
|14||Caliska Avila||11||Washington Union High (CS)||20:36.00||11|
|18||Julissa Avila||10||Farmersville High School (CS)||21:06.83||15|
|19||Devyn Kendrick||9||Orcutt Academy (CS)||21:07.47||16|
|20||Melissa Lopez||9||Roosevelt High (CS)||21:19.41||17|
|22||Caitlin Chea||9||Central Valley Christian (CS)||21:27.89||19|
|24||Christina Benitez||11||Mira Monte (CS)||21:30.65||21|
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.
Other top-25 returners from the 2019 CS Division 5 final
|6||Demaris Lopez||9||Fowler High (CS)||21:00.68||6|
|8||Celeste Ramos||10||Granite Hills High (CS)||21:20.19||7|
|10||Zoey Cardosa||10||San Joaquin Memorial (CS)||21:51.23||9|
|12||Gabriela Gutierrez||10||Fowler High (CS)||22:02.08||10|
|14||Alexa Gomez||9||Summit Charter Collegiate (CS)||22:36.25||0|
|15||Emily Moreno||10||Riverdale High (CS)||22:41.86||12|
|16||Demaree Lewis||10||Summit Charter Collegiate (CS)||22:42.32||0|
|19||Ana Wanner||11||Lee Vining High (SS)||23:15.55||0|
|21||Nicole Crow||9||Fowler High (CS)||23:27.61||16|
|22||Lizeth Solorzano||11||Chowchilla High (CS)||23:30.80||0|
|23||Kassidy Afonin||10||Liberty Madera Ranchos (CS)||23:34.75||17|
|24||Laurea Wanner||11||Lee Vining High (SS)||23:35.05||0|
|25||Juliana Gutierrez||9||San Joaquin Memorial (CS)||23:36.16||18|
Inserted photos by DeAnna Turner.