Colin Sahlman, right, led teammates Lex Young (1650) and Nicholas Goldstein (far left), up front at the Desert Twilight cross country meet held in Arizona in October. Sahlman won that race with the No. 3 overall time in the merge of in-season athletes and out-of-season athletes. (John Hays photos)
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An impressive victory against a strong field at the Desert Twilight XC Festival held in October stood out as the highlight performance in Gatorade's selection of Newbury Park junior Colin Sahlman as its California Boys Cross Country Player of the Year for 2020-21, announced Thursday.
Sahlman won the Unattached/Club division race on the 5K course in Arizona, winning the sprint at the end by less than a second over Jack Scherer, crossing the line in 14:53.67. Scherer -- from Oshkosh (WI) North and headed to NAU, was competing for Tinman Junior Elite. He finished in 14:54.49.
In the only other cross country meet of his junior season, Sahlman, competing at less than 100 percent, placed 20th in the XC Town USA Meet of Champions in November, helping his team to a title.
"I knew Colin was built to run the moment I met him, but being a great distance runner takes more than just looking the part," Newbury Park coach Sean Brosnan is quoted in the Gatorade release. "It takes hard work, sacrifice, and dedication -- all three of which Colin possesses. I've coached some great athletes, but he is among the best."
Because California had adjusted its cross country season to the winter, athletes running out of state during the fall had to compete unattached or as part of a club. Sahlman ran for the Newbury Park Athletic Club.
Newbury Park High School's top runners did not compete in the CIF's adjusted winter season, which ran from the end of January to the end of March.
At Desert Twilight, run on a golf course in Queen Creek, Arizona, competitors were divided by those from states conducting a fall cross country season, and those who had to run as a club or unattached. Sahlman's time was third overall in the merge behind Ben Shearer (The Woodlands (TX) Christian headed to Arkansas), who covered the course in 14:39.60, and Judson Greer (Melissa (TX) High headed to North Carolina), who crossed in 14:45.81.
Sahlman is the second Gatorade California Boys Cross Country Player of the Year to be chosen from Newbury Park High School, following the selection in 2019-2020 of former teammate Nico Young (now at NAU).
According to the release, the Gatorade State Player of the Year award, established in 1985, recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Sahlman is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Player of the Year award to be announced in April.
With California's normal fall cross country season pushed to the winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the athletes from the CA did not travel out of state for fall cross country meets. What Golden State runners found in the winter season was health-related restrictions that eliminated championships and invitationals. It limited the season to mostly a series of league duals and maybe a league championship cluster or a multi-dual finals meet where times were merged to declare an overall winner.
Coaches and athletic directors overcame unprecedented challenges to provide a season in whatever form possible so that athletes across the state could take the line and compete, be it on a makeshift campus course, a local park, or wherever.
In addition to Gatorade's recognition of Sahlman, we want to also give a well-earned shout-out to a couple of dozen other boys who not only had a high school cross country season during a pandemic but excelled consistently in those races.
Here is a sampling of other boys who stood out during the 2020-21 cross country season:
- Nolan Topper, a senior at Bellarmine College Prep (CC), headed to Stanford, won all three of his local winter cross country meets and also competed in October's Desert Twilight XC Meet in Arizona, placing seventh (15:13.17).
Nolan Topper won two 3-miler races involving Dublin and a few other schools and also won the WCAL-SCVAL combined meet, a 5K held in late March.
- Galen Topper, Nolan's twin brother who also signed with Stanford, placed second behind his brother at the Dublin meets, was third at WCAL-SCVAL, and eighth at Desert Twilight (15:14.90).
- Lex Young, a sophomore at Newbury Park (SS), was third (fifth in the merge) at Desert Twilight (14:56.79) and placed ninth at XC Town USA (15:25.10).
- Joshua Schuld, a senior at Beckman (SS), went undefeated in four races, including a 14:15.80 3-mile PR at the final Pacific Coast League Dual meet. His classmate Zeid Hussain, ran second to Schuld in all four races, including a 14:28.90 3-mile PR in the finale.
- Austin Montez, a senior at Great Oak (SS), won six of the seven Southwestern League 3-mile meets, placing second in one. He also ran in 5K meets at Desert Twilight XC Festival, placing 16th, and the XC Town USA MOC, placing 36th.
- Ewan MacFarlane, a senior at Peninsula (SS), went undefeated in three league races and placed 12th at Desert Twilight.
- Landen Lee, a senior at Trabuco Hills (SS), won all four of his races including the league title.
- Jai Dawson, a junior at Dana Hills (SS), won all four of his races, including going 14:56.90 in winning the South Coast League title.
- Bryce Gilmore, a junior at Sage Creek (SD), went undefeated in four winter races and placed 20th at Desert Twilight in October (15:29.20).
- Ajani Salcido, a senior at Jesuit (SJ), went undefeated in five dual meet 5K races.
- Patrick Curulla, a senior at De La Salle (NC), went 3-0 in three 3-mile races, including a victory in the Tri-Valley Meet of Champions, and placed third in the Jesuit dual behind Ajani Salcido and Jesuit senior Michael Chambers.
- Zachary Ayers, a junior at Davis (SJ), won three 3-mile duals, and two of three 5K duals, placing second to Ajani Salcido in the dual with Jesuit.
- Jeremy Kain, a junior at Scotts Valley (CC), won four races, including the SCCAL Cross Country Championships at the end of March, and placed 10th at XC Town USA in November.
- Ben Laughlin, a senior at Aptos (CC), won three 2.x-mile races and placed second to Kain by one second at SCCAL Cross Country Championships.
- Kenan Pala, a junior at Francis Parker (SD), had only two races but won the dual with rival Santa Fe Christian, and he crossed first at the SoCal D5 Championship 5K race that included SFC rival Alex Bobowski and 2019 D-V State Meet champion Jackson Adelman of St. Margaret's (SS).
- Ian Queenan, a junior at Monache (CS), won all four of his 3-mile races.
- Cormac Carew, a senior at Mira Costa (SS), won three of four 3-mile duals, placed second to Peninsula's Ewan McFarlane in the other, and placed 11th at Desert Twilight in October, 15:19.78.
- Angus Fitzgerald, a senior at Royal (SS), won three 3-mile races, including the Coastal Canyon League title, also won the Simi 5000m held in December, and placed 15th at Desert Twilight (15:24.89).
- Sam Jones, a senior at El Camino (SD), won five of six races, including the North County Conference Championship, and placed second to Sage Creek's Bryce Gilmore in the other race.
- Max Sannes, a junior at Big Bear (SS), won all three of his dual-meet races and placed 19th at Desert Twilight (15:28.66).
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