Division 2 of the Southern Section is loaded with talent including Emma Hadley (far left), Amber Rios (partially behind 993), MacKenzie Browne (911), Tiani Goeson (977) and Maddie Coles (697). (Photo by Patrick Corsinita)
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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 and overall competition could be limited.
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The past few seasons, when reflecting on the teams qualifying for the State Meet, Division 2 has been the toughest in the Southern Section. For example in 2019, six teams in Division 2 ran under the 91-minute threshold (18:12 average per girl) as a team, whereas only two other teams, outside the division, achieved the same feat. In 2018, seven squads in Division 2 broke that barrier whereas there were five combined from the other divisions. This is arguably the toughest division in which to qualify for a State Meet in the nation!
In 2019, it was the year of Newbury Park, with the boys and girls both winning section and state titles and the boys going on to win a national title. The COVID-19 pandemic obviously changed the calendar for the entire state and the Panthers found a way to pull off some semblance of a fall season -- albeit out of state.
This winter in the Golden State, Division 2 talent is abundant.
Canyon of Anaheim Hills has been to the last five State Meets out of Division 2. On paper, Canyon returns a strong core that can very well push Newbury Park. Junior Emma Hadley has made the podium in finishing within the top 10 at the past two State Meets. A strong supporting cast includes Sarah Paino, Isabella Frisone and Grace Walker. Frisone (pictured) fought off injuries during the 2019 season and with her at full strength, this team will be even better. With a fifth-place showing at the 2019 State Meet, this veteran group goes in 2021 as the favorites to be Orange County's best and one of the top five squads in the Southern Section.
When referencing consistency and experience, look no further than the girls of El Toro. Head coach Ken Chai has done a great job mentoring this program as they have qualified for the State Meet the past four seasons. Kasey Lynd and Paulette Dominguez are the Chargers' top two returners with Dominguez lighting it up this past offseason, recently setting a new time trial team record in training. Darla Medina and Olivia Reichle also return from their 2019 squad that placed fourth at the State Championships.
Claremont has been the most successful team in Division 2 the past five seasons. Three Division 2 titles to go along with their runner-up finish in 2019, they return two of the best in the division. Maddie Coles and Angie Gushue (pictured) headline here, both excelling in the postseason the past two seasons. They will have to replace two scorers from that squad but expect Peyton Cruz and Lily Widrig to step into those spots.
Northwood placed 10th in 2019, but return six of the varsity seven from that postseason. Audrey Landis returns after a strong 2019 campaign as they look to compete with the best in Orange County. Foothill (Santa Ana) also returns most of its crew from the 2019 season, where they placed 11th at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals. They do need to replace their top scorer but return everybody else with sophomore Courtney Copeland being the top returner.
Dana Hills will have to overcome the fact that three of their scorers from the 2019 finals have graduated. With that, they are led by one of the best in the division in sophomore Allura Markow. Fellow sophomore Mia Geiger will look to close that gap while the Dolphins will need to dig into their depth to keep up with the top squads in the division.
Individually, the CIF-SS Division 2 defending champion is JW North sophomore, Mackenzie Browne (pictured) who rolled to a 16:53.7 on the Riverside Championship Course in 2019. Older sister Makayla Browne looks to regain the form that also saw her qualify for the State Meet after she was the 2018 CIF-SS runner-up for Division 2. With those two up front, expect the Huskies to be one of the top 10 teams in the division again.
Meanwhile, Amber Rios of Colony (and UC Irvine bound) came in behind the younger Browne for second place at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals. But her best performance came a week later at the State Meet when she placed second with a 17:35.0 effort at the 5K Woodward Park course.
Serrano junior Tiani Goeson (pictured) has two top-five finishes on her resume already and is coming off a 12th-place finish at the AAU National Championships in early December.
No one stepped up more at the 2019 State Meet than Dana Hills sophomore Allura Markow. Snagging that last individual spot and placing 12th at the CIF-SS Finals, she exploded for a ninth-place finish a week later. Her 17:51.1 was the third-fastest on the day among all freshmen regardless of division.
Claremont's Coles and Gushue will also be up with the elites in this division. Coles looks to return to her freshman postseason form that saw her run away with the 2018 CIF-SS Division 2 title. Canyon's Emma Hadley has also been a mainstay atop the Division 2 girls rankings the past two seasons as well. As mentioned earlier, the junior has finished in the top 10 at the State Meet the past two seasons.
Defending Southern Section and State Meet champion Newbury Park was able to find competition out of state during the fall and is not expected to compete in cross country this winter to focus on the track season, coach Sean Brosnan said.
In 2019, the girls of Newbury Park carved out legacy separate from their more well known boys juggernaut. The Panthers girls first trip to the California State Meet was one to remember as they ran away with a convincing 79 point performance!
Competing outside state lines this past fall, the girls looked sharp as Sam McDonnell and Fiona Hawkins led up front. Both placed ninth and 12th, respectively, at the 2019 State Meet. McDonnell shined this past offseason with a fifth-place finish (17:43.0) at October's Desert Twilight XC Festival. Ailish Hawkins will also challenge to be one of the top 10 in the division after looking strong this past fall.
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Photos by Patrick Corsinita and DeAnna Turner.