XC Preview: Southern Section Division 1 Boys

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Editor's Note: We're a tad late in getting this article posted knowing that some parts of the Southern Section have already been able to hold dual and league 3x2 meets. But we felt it was important to go live with this story to recognize all the athletes and teams warranting recognition. Enjoy!

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With most of the top teams in Division 1 from 2019 graduating the majority of their squads, there remains one constant: Great Oak will dominate once again!

The Wolfpack are coming off a season that saw them end with yet another State title, their fifth straight CIF-SS Division 1 title, and a narrow runner-up finish at Team Nationals.  

Great Oak has qualified for the State Meet seven years in a row and nine of the past 10. If there were a State Cross Country Championships this winter, the Wolfpack would undoubtedly be there and be the favorite. The CIF-State office had previously cancelled the State Meet for this season, so comparable results for those able to compete across California will have to suffice when deciding the state's best from this abnormal of all seasons. 

So we reference the last full cross country season in California before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, which takes us to 2019 where the Great Oak boys national runner-up team was expected to return six boys with postseason experience from that season. 

Senior Austin Montez (at right in photo) led the crew at last week's Southwestern League Meet and has been the team's top runner this winter.  With seven of the top nine all being underclassmen, keep in mind that Great Oak boasted the best freshman class in the state (five boys breaking 15:50 over a three-mile course) during the 2019 season!  Meanwhile, Leandro Candray leads the squad with his 15:34.6 performance from the 2019 State Meet while Carson Smith and Cameron Smith were instrumental in helping the squad earn the divisional title. Remember that Great Oak sat out its entire varsity squad before the State Meet!  The overall depth of the program is unprecedented as this squad will continue to be above any other in Division 1 in the final season under coaches Doug Soles and Dan Noble, who plan to leave the program at the end of the cross country season.  

Head Coach Mark Evans has done a masterful job at Crescenta Valley. The long-time coach has led the Falcons to the last three State Meets.  With that, they return five from the same squad that placed second at the 2019 CIF-SS Finals. Max Burton and Rowan Fitzgerald shined during that 2019 season while they also return Jack Myers and Chris Cubias.  In 2019, Fitzgerald was one of the top sophomores in the division. We do not see Crescenta Valley missing a beat here as they remain one of the best and most consistent (top-10 finishes the past seven seasons) programs in the Southern Section.   

On paper, San Clemente and Trabuco Hills both return a core of their 2019 squads. San Clemente has never qualified for the State Meet (unfortunately the case here in 2021), but would have projected to be a top-five in Division 1. The Tritons return three of their top four from their 12th-place squad but sophomore Juan Chantaca led the way in their impressive dual meet against Mission Viejo last week.  With a very young squad, Hayden Beauchemin and Brodey Horspool (the only senior that competed last weekend) also return with postseason experience.  

Trabuco Hills returns one of the best in the division in Landen Lee (pictured). The senior unloaded, gapping the field over over 30-seconds in his victory over a talented Capistrano Valley group. The Mustangs showed signs of being a top-10 squad in 2019 and return their top four from that team. Danny Almada and Marc Sailer return while look for freshman Micah Clemons (son of head coach, Liam Clemons) to make an impact as well.  This looks to be the strongest team they've had in almost eight seasons.  

Not much separates our next group of squads that would compete for a top-five spot this season. That group includes Beckman, Arcadia, Vista Murrieta, and Loyola.

Beckman has shined the past two weeks as Joshua Schuld and Zeid Hussain are reaping the benefits of some solid training over the past several months. Both blistered their on-campus course last weekend with Schuld breaking their school record with a 14:19 performance.  This is their best squad in school history with Schuld and Hussain shining in Arizona last weekend in both rolling to sub-9:30 performances (despite extreme winds) on the oval for 3200 meters.  

Arcadia has been a mainstay on the Division 1 scene, with 16 consecutive trips to the divisional finals.  Tianyuan Pei returns as one of the division's best.  Also, watch for William Kelley to shine as they return five from the 2019 Division 1 finals.  

Vista Murrieta peaked at the right time, as is custom with all of Coley Candaele's squads regardless of sport, and earned their first State Meet spot since 2012.  Noah Murasmith (pictured) was a catalyst for that postseason success, but the Broncos also welcome a new transfer from Murrieta Mesa, Gabe Jasperson

On paper, Loyola does not return the numbers from 2019 that are seen from the squads above.  But this IS Loyola!  They move in from Division 2 where they placed fifth in 2019.  Pay no attention to rankings when it comes to Lalo Diaz and how he continuously constructs a great squad that always peaks well.  Bouncing back and forth between the two largest divisions, only once since 2002 have the Cubs NOT qualified for a State Meet berth while placing in the top five the past seven years.  Arjun Vadgama and Zach Zambrano are their top returners along with one of the top sophomore groups in the state in 2019.  

Not too far behind those eight squads, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, Mira Costa, and Martin Luther King also return strong groups from the 2019 season  

Individually, 12 of the top 15 from the 2019 CIF-SS Finals graduated.  Meanwhile, one of the three underclassmen will not compete.  As mentioned in the opening, most of the top teams suffered huge graduation losses as Division 1 will see a lot of new faces (and teams) step up.  

Redondo Union's Christoph Waligorski is the top returner from the 2019 CIF-SS Division 1 finals.  Waligorski (pictured) was a huge surprise with his runner-up finish from that final and brings State Meet experience while still being a junior.    

Also, a State Meet qualifier in 2019, Daniel Rodriguez of Highland carries as big a resume as anybody in the division.  He placed ninth at the CIF-SS and comes in as one of the best in the Southern Section.   

We previously referenced Landen Lee of Trabuco Hills and his impressive opening performance last weekend. With the great turnover witnessed after the Class of '20 graduated, Lee is the third-fastest returner from the 2019 finals.   

On paper, the Loyola duo of Vadgama and Zambrano would also match up with the best of Division 1.  Arcadia's Pei placed in the top-20 at the CIF-SS Finals. 

Competing in that tough Southwestern League, Chaparral's Jacob Bustamante placed 22nd at the 2019 Division 1 finals and ran the fastest time at last week's Southwestern league meet.

Where all non-seniors placed among the top 75 at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 1 Championship Race

2Christoph Waligorski10Redondo Union High School (SS)14:55.700
6John Worthy11Great Oak High School (SS)15:01.105
9Daniel Rodriguez11Highland High School (SS)15:04.508
16Landen Lee11Trabuco Hills High School (SS)15:18.0015
17Tianyuan Pei11Arcadia High School (SS)15:19.5016
20Dylan Gatua11West Ranch (SS)15:25.3017
22Jacob Bustamante11Chaparral High School (SS)15:26.8019
24Anthony Alvarez11Highland High School (SS)15:27.0021
26Evan Hild10Santiago Corona (SS)15:27.200
27Brodey Horspool11San Clemente High (SS)15:27.8023
28Andres Chavez10Eleanor Roosevelt (SS)15:28.0024
29Max Burton11Crescenta Valley (SS)15:30.0025
31Rowan Fitzgerald10Crescenta Valley (SS)15:30.6027
35Nathan England11Rancho Cucamonga (SS)15:31.2031
37Isaiah Slagboom11Channel Islands High School (SS)15:31.7033
39Tristan Amell11Santa Monica High (SS)15:34.200
40Andres Leon11Burbank High School (SS)15:35.3035
41Cameron Smith10Great Oak High School (SS)15:35.5036
42Zeid Hussain11Arnold O. Beckman (SS) High School15:36.1037
44Aiden Larsen11Valencia Placentia (SS)15:36.5039
47Jack Myers11Crescenta Valley (SS)15:38.7042
48John Gathuu9King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)15:39.1043
49Blake Gallardo11Saugus High School (SS)15:40.2044
51Ryan Boratynec11San Clemente High (SS)15:41.0046
52Carson Smith10Great Oak High School (SS)15:41.7047
54Colin Beale11Mira Costa High School (SS)15:42.0049
58Alex Kalmar11Temecula Valley High (SS)15:43.700
61Francisco Zavaleta11King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)15:45.1055
63Noah Murasmith11Vista Murrieta (SS)15:47.7057
68Austin Olivarez10Chaparral High School (SS)15:54.1062
69Wyatt Hagerman11Vista Murrieta (SS)15:55.4063
70Edgar Ortega11King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)15:55.9064
73Joshua Schuld11Arnold O. Beckman (SS) High School15:56.6067

Placing for all non-senior boys from the Southern Section in the 2019 Division I Race at State

17Mateo Joseph11Great Oak High School (SS)15:26.1013
24John Worthy11Great Oak High School (SS)15:31.5018
32Christoph Waligorski10Redondo Union High School (SS)15:37.200
35Andres Chavez10Eleanor Roosevelt (SS)15:39.6025
50Andres Leon11Burbank High School (SS)15:46.2036
59Noah Murasmith11Vista Murrieta (SS)15:52.9043
67Max Burton11Crescenta Valley (SS)15:57.3049
84Daniel Rodriguez11Highland High School (SS)16:08.500
88Tyler Jenkins11Burbank High School (SS)16:11.7065
89Rowan Fitzgerald10Crescenta Valley (SS)16:11.8066
99Wyatt Hagerman11Vista Murrieta (SS)16:16.3074

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Photos by DeAnna Turner, Zoe Medranda, Patrick Corsinita, Jeffrey Parenti.

Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA and serves as the Southern Section editor.

MileSplitCA editor Jeffrey Parenti contributed to this report.