XC PREVIEW Southern Section Division 2


Dana Hills senior Jai Dawson, who was fourth in Southern Section Division 2 and sixth at the State Meet as a sophomore in 2019, is one of the top returning cross country runners in the state. (Patrick Corsinta photo)


Defending national champions, Newbury Park left plenty of squads smiling when it was revealed that Coach Sean Brosnan's Panthers were moving up to Division 1. But, even more so when the headlines also featured that perennial powerhouse Loyola would join them!  

Like we mentioned in previous previews, we are leaning heavier than ever before on the 2021 track numbers, and with that, on paper -- Hart goes into this 2021 cross country season as the pre-season favorites to claim the team title. Meanwhile, our preseason projections point to a nice dog fight for those seven spots to the State Meet this November!

Hart not only looks to end a 10-year drought of not qualifying for the State Meet, but they have what it takes to be on the podium at the State Meet this season. Jaden Wiley shined this past track season with 4:21.46/9:15.02 standout performances.  While sixth overall for underclassmen in the 3200 meters, all those ahead of him compete in Division 1. Hart is the only squad with five boys under 4:35 for the 1600 meters and six under 10:10 for the 3200 meters. As Wiley shined in a two-miler two weeks in rolling to a 9:20, his supporting class features a trio of juniors in Owen Ahten (9:43 two weeks ago), Paul Mangione (9:45 two weeks ago) and Nathaniel Branda along with senior Carson DeSpain. As they witnessed seven break 10:05, the Indians are poised for something special this season as we have them in our top five for all squads in the Southern Section!

While we place Hart atop our projections, the battle on paper behind them is tight, featuring Ayala, Claremont, Royal, Mira Costa, Foothill, and Dana Hills.  Meanwhile, several others will also be in the fight.

In D-1, Ayala was on the fringe of a State Meet spot, but the move into D-2 should land the Bulldogs on the line in Fresno come late November.  Ayala has not qualified for the State Meet since 2012 and last shined with its 10th-place finish in 2018 while in Division 1. Nathan Tsai was one of the top sophomores in 3200 meters this past spring with his 9:38.82. But it was teammate, Mason Ma that impressed with his 15:07.7 victory at the Ryan Bousquet Memorial Run two weeks ago! With Mateo Cole and Malachi Morris dipping under 16-minutes, Ayala will be a major player this season. 

After a bumpy finish to the 2019 cross country season, Claremont is back and is projected for another top-5 finish. The Wolfpack has placed in the top five the past six postseasons, including winning the team title in 2017. Chris Coles comes in off a phenomenal finish to the track season that saw him drop over 25 seconds on the last few weeks of the season for a 9:20.95 in the 3200 meters. Head coach Bill Reeves is confident in this group that features Jason Miranda, Ruben Denson, Jude Robledo and Sebastian Grannis. Claremont and Ayala will line up against one another in a great Palomares League rivalry.

Royal made the move from Division 3, where they earned the runner-up plague in 2019 but had to wait a year to finally compete here in 2021. Despite the graduation of some of the school's most talented runners, Royal appears well-stocked with a solid group of underclassmen. Juniors Noah De la Rionda (9:46.31) and Jonah Bazerkanian (4:23.43/9:49.52) were two of the top sophomores in the Southern Section. Cole Ponce (bib 1399) and Roberto Alvarez will also play vital roles this season.

Mira Costa joined the move into the division with Ayala. Andrew Martin shined this past spring (9:34.79) while teammate Max Levin (4:21.31) also displayed his talent. The Mustangs placed 10th at the 2019 Division 1 finals and last made the State Meet in 2016. On paper, they lack the depth as the team focus was more on the 1600 meters this past spring. Junior Kai Graham and sophomore Parker Stickney will be expected to step into those top spots.  

Dana Hills features the division's top returner in Jai Dawson. Coming off a great track season (4:09.26/9:20.01), remember that Dawson placed fourth at the CIF-SS Division 2 finals. As a sophomore, a week later at the State Championships, he elevated his game for a sixth-place finish (15:09.9) to help propel the Dolphins to the national championships. Depth and how the squad reacts to a new head coach will be the question mark here in 2021. Dana Hills has qualified for the State Meet in every season since 2006 with top-3 finishes in each of the last seven postseasons.

Chasing down those last spots will be Foothill and Thousand Oaks. Foothill has not qualified for the State Meet since 2007 and will be led by Grant Sweningson. The senior is coming off a 4:15.96 track season. Meanwhile, Atticus Hall and his 4:19.72 will head the crew at Thousand Oaks. He was their third scorer at the 2019 Final. Both squads feature similar numbers for the 3200 meters this past spring but Foothill does bring in four sub-4:40 boys into the season. Meanwhile, the Lancers bring in the experience of qualifying for the State Meet in the last two postseasons.

There is no way to count out the traditional powers of El Toro and Ventura. El Toro qualified for the State Meet in 2017 and 2018 and has always displayed more depth than its counterparts. Meanwhile, Ventura last qualified when it captured the Division 2 title in 2016 and looks to have a tight scoring gap with their talent.    

As they lurk in the shadows in search of a State Meet berth, Anaheim Hills Canyon can also play the role of spoiler if it shores up that back-scoring depth.  

Individually, Dawson of Dana Hills is one of the most talented harriers in California! As we mentioned, he only got better in the 2019 postseason and was the primary reason why the squad placed second to Newbury Park at the State Meet. 

Hart's Wiley will be up front with Dawson seeking the individual victory. The race savvy we witnessed from Coles during the 2021 track postseason was impressive and we suspect that he will push Dawson and Wiley all throughout.

Those not mentioned above that project to place in the top 10 include Ramona's Juan Espino. The senior put it together this past spring to impress with his 9:36.11. One of the top returners from that 2019 final is Glendora's John Sesteaga. The only returner that remains in Division 2 is Dawson as Sesteaga placed 33rd overall (15:14.1). Thousand Oaks' Hall placed 38th in that same race (15:20.7) as a sophomore. Sweningson placed 50th in 2019 with a 15:31.9 effort. 

Justin Singer has developed in a solid talent as evidenced from his seventh-place finish at the Division 2 finals for the 3200 in 9:27.36.  A new face to watch for is sophomore Jaden Goetz out of Canyon (Anaheim). As a freshman, he rolled to a 9:42.49, and at the aforementioned Ryan Bousquet race, Goetz placed second (15:23.4) while the ceiling is high with this one. In that same race, teammate Ethan Florez (4:20.09) also impressed along with Mater Dei's Dominic Calabrese.

2019 Team Champions

Division 2: Newbury Park (D-II State Champions)

Seven Across The Line

(Top seven freshmen/sophomore finishers at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 2 Finals. Schools may no longer be in D-2.)

4. Jai Dawson (Dana Hills), 9. Colin Sahlman (Newbury Park), 22. Daniel Appleford (Newbury Park), 30. Leo Young (Newbury Park), 33. John Sesteaga (Glendora), 38. Atticus Hall (Thousand Oaks), 50. Grant Sweningson (Santa Ana Foothill).