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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. We structure this article with the knowledge that Southern Section and CIF-State championship meets have been canceled.
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The battle for the CIF-SS Division 3 girls title will welcome three new faces to the divisional scene. Simi Valley and Mission Viejo join the party for the first time, along with West Torrance moving back in a one year hiatus with the likes of Division 2, giving the D-3 a nice upgrade in talent.
Brea Olinda is coming off a strong runner-up performance from the 2019 CIF-SS divisional finals. Despite the Wildcats graduating their top two performers from the 2019 postseason, they return the rest of that State Meet podium group. With juniors Kendra Painter and Emily Wernli leading the way, head coach Dreux Valenti returns a group that will rank among the best in Orange County.
Coming in from Division 2 for the first time in recent memory, Simi Valley's Jill Walker (pictured below), a University of New Hampshire signee, comes in as the favorite among individual stars in the division while bringing in a strong squad expected to battle Brea Olinda (at least in the rankings if a head-to-head meeting on the course is not possible).
Simi Valley placed sixth at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 2 finals. That same effort would have captured the Division 3 title rather easily. In another display of the vast competitive difference between the two divisions, Julia Kiesler and Lexi Darley are among the top eight returners in the division when using the 2019 divisional finals. The Pioneers have the advantage and with some help in that fifth scoring slot, not much separates them in regard to Brea Olinda.
Palos Verdes has captured the past two Division 3 titles (70-84 over Brea Olinda in 2019) and seven over the past 10 seasons! After graduating the top two placers at the 2019 finals (Savannah Scriven, now at UCLA, and Samantha Steman), they will be rebuilding. But head coach Brian Shapiro has consistently overcome graduations and Maya Whitcomb and Claire Hardesty (pictured) will, once again, place the Sea Kings in contention for the title. They have gone 12 years in a row of placing in the top three at the divisional finals!
South Torrance leads the group of contenders vying for top-five team finishers. The Spartans qualified for the State Meet each of the past three seasons and return most of their 2019 squad. Lily Albert returns back from a sub-18 minute performance at the 2019 finals to lead her squad to a fifth-place team finish.
On paper, Mission Viejo and West Torrance are also in the same tier. We referenced earlier the disparity of competitiveness between Divisions 2 and 3 in the Southern Section. Both squads placed 17th and 18th, respectively, at the 2019 Division 2 finals BUT would have qualified for the State Meet in Division 3, earning that seventh slot to Fresno. Mission Viejo's Anastasia Snodgrass is their top returner while Lindsay Park and Lily Ball headline for the Warriors of West Torrance.
Led by sophomore Jadyn Zdanavage (pictured), the Bulldogs of Portola is coming off qualifying for the 2019 State Meet in only its third year as a school.
Individually, Simi Valley's Walker delivered a 17:10.6 performance at the 2019 Division 2 finals and has been one of the best in the Southern Section since her freshman season.
In comparison, before the move from Simi Valley into the division, Yorba Linda's Siena Palicke was the top returner based on her 17:41.7, third-place finish at the CIF-SS Division 3 finals. The UCLA-bound Palicke (at left in photo at the top of this article) had qualified for the past two State Meets and peaked with an impressive fourth-place finish on the Woodward Park 5K layout at State in 2019 (17:57.3).
Chino's Mia Chavez placed fourth at the 2019 finals (17:46.3) as a sophomore while the aforementioned Zdanavage was the second-fastest freshman at the 2019 State Meet in Division III in placing 12th.
Santa Margarita's Kendall Saeger (now working with new distance coach, Marty Dugard) placed 10th at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals but also finished the season with her best, in a 14th-place performance at the State Meet. Saeger (pictured) is matriculating to Southern Methodist University this fall.
Finally, Agoura's Georgia McCorkle coming in off a strong sophomore season as she also qualified for the 2019 State Meet.
2019 CIF-SS DIVISIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
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Photos by Patrick Corsinita and Jeffrey Parenti.