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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.
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.
- RELATED: Southern Section Division 1 Girls
Where all non-seniors placed among the top 75 at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 1 Championship Race
|DIVISION 1 BOYS THREE MILE RUN FINALS|
|2||Christoph Waligorski||10||Redondo Union High School (SS)||14:55.70||0|
|6||John Worthy||11||Great Oak High School (SS)||15:01.10||5|
|9||Daniel Rodriguez||11||Highland High School (SS)||15:04.50||8|
|16||Landen Lee||11||Trabuco Hills High School (SS)||15:18.00||15|
|17||Tianyuan Pei||11||Arcadia High School (SS)||15:19.50||16|
|20||Dylan Gatua||11||West Ranch (SS)||15:25.30||17|
|22||Jacob Bustamante||11||Chaparral High School (SS)||15:26.80||19|
|24||Anthony Alvarez||11||Highland High School (SS)||15:27.00||21|
|26||Evan Hild||10||Santiago Corona (SS)||15:27.20||0|
|27||Brodey Horspool||11||San Clemente High (SS)||15:27.80||23|
|28||Andres Chavez||10||Eleanor Roosevelt (SS)||15:28.00||24|
|29||Max Burton||11||Crescenta Valley (SS)||15:30.00||25|
|31||Rowan Fitzgerald||10||Crescenta Valley (SS)||15:30.60||27|
|35||Nathan England||11||Rancho Cucamonga (SS)||15:31.20||31|
|37||Isaiah Slagboom||11||Channel Islands High School (SS)||15:31.70||33|
|39||Tristan Amell||11||Santa Monica High (SS)||15:34.20||0|
|40||Andres Leon||11||Burbank High School (SS)||15:35.30||35|
|41||Cameron Smith||10||Great Oak High School (SS)||15:35.50||36|
|42||Zeid Hussain||11||Arnold O. Beckman (SS) High School||15:36.10||37|
|44||Aiden Larsen||11||Valencia Placentia (SS)||15:36.50||39|
|47||Jack Myers||11||Crescenta Valley (SS)||15:38.70||42|
|48||John Gathuu||9||King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)||15:39.10||43|
|49||Blake Gallardo||11||Saugus High School (SS)||15:40.20||44|
|51||Ryan Boratynec||11||San Clemente High (SS)||15:41.00||46|
|52||Carson Smith||10||Great Oak High School (SS)||15:41.70||47|
|54||Colin Beale||11||Mira Costa High School (SS)||15:42.00||49|
|58||Alex Kalmar||11||Temecula Valley High (SS)||15:43.70||0|
|61||Francisco Zavaleta||11||King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)||15:45.10||55|
|63||Noah Murasmith||11||Vista Murrieta (SS)||15:47.70||57|
|68||Austin Olivarez||10||Chaparral High School (SS)||15:54.10||62|
|69||Wyatt Hagerman||11||Vista Murrieta (SS)||15:55.40||63|
|70||Edgar Ortega||11||King (Martin Luther Jr.) (SS)||15:55.90||64|
|73||Joshua Schuld||11||Arnold O. Beckman (SS) High School||15:56.60||67|
Placing for all non-senior boys from the Southern Section in the 2019 Division I Race at State
|DIVISION 1 BOYS 5000 METER RUN FINALS|
|17||Mateo Joseph||11||Great Oak High School (SS)||15:26.10||13|
|24||John Worthy||11||Great Oak High School (SS)||15:31.50||18|
|32||Christoph Waligorski||10||Redondo Union High School (SS)||15:37.20||0|
|35||Andres Chavez||10||Eleanor Roosevelt (SS)||15:39.60||25|
|50||Andres Leon||11||Burbank High School (SS)||15:46.20||36|
|59||Noah Murasmith||11||Vista Murrieta (SS)||15:52.90||43|
|67||Max Burton||11||Crescenta Valley (SS)||15:57.30||49|
|84||Daniel Rodriguez||11||Highland High School (SS)||16:08.50||0|
|88||Tyler Jenkins||11||Burbank High School (SS)||16:11.70||65|
|89||Rowan Fitzgerald||10||Crescenta Valley (SS)||16:11.80||66|
|99||Wyatt Hagerman||11||Vista Murrieta (SS)||16:16.30||74|
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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.