XC PREVIEW Southern Section Division 1


Colin Sahlman (1647) and Lex Young (1650) led the way for Newbury Park at the Desert Twilight meet in Arizona last fall. The Panthers will open their fall 2021 season at the Woodbridge Invitational. (John Hays photo)


One of the biggest headlines from this past summer was the move of 2019 team nationals champions Newbury Park moving up into Division 1. But, to add even more top-end depth to the top of the rankings, Loyola moved in as well. 

The accolades for the Newbury Park boys have been chronicled like no other -- and deservingly so!  No cross country team in the history of the sport at the prep level has had three sub-9:00 two-milers coming into the season. The Panthers have ... four! Six boys eclipsed 9:25 this past spring and 4:18 for 1600. There is no debate on Newbury Park being the top-ranked team in the nation and from now until the end of the season, it will be all about properly preparing the squad for another CIF-State and national championship run. Can this group possibly be stronger than they were in 2019 with Nico Young and Jace Aschbrenner leading the way?  Coach Sean Brosnan's Panters are certainly deeper!

Colin Sahlman (4:03.58/8:43.42) is joined by Lex Young (4:08.76 mile/8:43.71) and Leo Young (4:07.66 mile/8:55.82) while Daniel Appleford (4:15.51/8:56.77) completes that quartet that broke the 9-minute landmark last May. Aaron Sahlman shined as well with a 4:09.30 mile in June. Meanwhile, juniors Aaron Cantu (9:19.87) and Hector Martinez (9:23.84) provides credentials that would normally place them as most school's top scorers. Being our only team where we mention seven, let's mention an eighth talent as Dev Doshi rolled to a 9:35.47 to rank as the second in the state for freshmen!

NEVER has a prep squad come into the season with better numbers! Their debut will be at the Woodbridge Invitational in two weeks and then will focus on the Clovis Invite during the second week of October.  

Saddled with the daunting challenge of defending their streak of five consecutive Division 1 titles are the boys from Great Oak. This past spring, one of the biggest stories was the school's only head coach, Doug Soles, stepping down from the position after 15 seasons. With that, Soles left behind a very talented and deep group of boys for new head coach Tammy Draughon. This past weekend, the group claimed the team title at the Cool Breeze Invitational over our top-ranked team in Division 2, Hart. The Smith twins, Carson and Cameron placed fifth and sixth, respectively, against a loaded field. A second set of twins, juniors Mark and Ramses Cortes placed within 10 seconds of the front pair and under 15:10. With Brandon Wilk and sophomore Gabriel Rodriguez placing sixth for the squad that produced an impressive 26-second scoring gap. This will be their eighth straight postseason of qualifying for the State Meet.

Loyola comes in from Division 2 loaded, as usual. Seniors Dylan Bissell and Richard Moreno lead the way along with junior Jake Ratkovich. Sophomore Harrison Lavery shined as their fourth scorer this past Saturday at the Great Mini Cow Run that saw Bissell run home with the victory in a swift 14:16 time. Senior Nathan Mars completed the scoring with all five crossing under 15-minutes. This will be Loyola's 14th straight postseason (18 of the past 19 as well) of competing at the State Meet as they have finished in the top five, regardless of division, in each of the past seven seasons. Head coach Lalo Diaz continues to mold the Loyola legacy as one of the top boys' programs in California state history.   

Behind these three squads, you find yourself with a large group fighting for those other four slots to the State Meet.

Crescenta Valley will qualify for their fourth straight State Meet, despite graduating most of the squad that placed second to Great Oak in 2019. Mark and Rob Evans form an experienced coaching duo while Rowan Fitzgerald (pictured) steps into the leadership role after a successful 4:13.53/9:22.21 track season. But, perhaps, the transfer that made the most noise was that of Parker Simmons. While at nearby Hoover, Simmons' 9:24.95 best for the 3200 meters ranked him among the best sophomores in the section. With those two sitting out the Cool Breeze, the supporting cast of juniors Harrison Connors and Luke Cheney shined while Max Ruiz also dipped under 16-minutes in the non-Sweepstakes race.

Behind these four, not much separates the talents of Vista Murrieta, San Clemente, Roosevelt, and Long Beach Poly. With Santiago (Corona) and Redondo Union's showing at the Cool Breeze, throw them into that group as well.

Vista Murrieta looked sharp at the Riverside Showcase this past weekend, running much faster than their squads in the past. With the senior trio of Brandon Calderon, Lance Denhalter, and Nick Hernandez, along with head coach Coley Candaele's ability to always peak his teams just right, the Broncos project to make the State Meet, as they did in 2019.

San Clemente has steadily improved since the arrival of longtime legendary coach Tim Butler. With tremendous young depth in play, Elijah Ritchie and junior Juan Chantaca will lead the way for the Tritons. They placed 12th at the 2019 finals but in 2021, they should be one of the major players in the division.

Roosevelt impressed at the Fastback Invite this past weekend on the Mt. SAC course and also possesses some great young talent. They may have shown up fourth this past weekend but rested their top boy, Andres Chavez. Juniors Jude Enriquez and Jose Linares expect to team up with seniors Andrew Valiente and Landen Breckner. The Mustangs placed third at the 2019 finals

Individually, Newbury Park may very well place five in the top 10 (if not better!). You pick 'em on which Panther will emerge with the title. Meanwhile, Redondo Union senior Christoph Waligorski (pronounced 'Valley-gorski') is the top returner from the 2019 finals, as he surprised with a second-place finish. Waligorski (pictured at the 2019 State Meet) brought home the individual victory in the Division 1/2 varsity race at the Cool Breeze Invite.

Santiago's Evan Hild finished 26th at the 2019 finals while Roosevelt' Chavez was the only other sophomore to place in the top 30. Hild is coming off a tremendous track season that saw him improve to a 4:18.43 for 1600 meters.

But watch for Crescenta Valley's Fitzgerald. He evolved into one of the top underclassmen in California this past spring. Loyola's Bissell had one of the better track seasons of any underclass boy as well.  His 4:16.17 and 9:16.65 marks moved up that illustrious Loyola school record list.

Katella's Jonathan Aguilar also impressed us at the Fastback Invite this past Saturday with a solid 10:08.0 showing as he comes in, off a 4:19.27/9:25.16 track season.  We also have our eyes on Beckman's Christopher Keyler and Millikan sophomore Jason Parra as he was one of the top freshman boys for the 3200 this past track season.  

2019 Team Champions

Division 1: Great Oak (D-I State Champions)

Seven Across The Line

(Top seven freshmen/sophomore finishers at the 2019 CIF-SS Division 1 Finals. Schools may no longer be in D-1.)

2. Christoph Waligorski (Redondo Union), 26. Evan Hild (Corona Santiago), 28. Andres Chavez (Roosevelt), 31. Rowan Fitzgerald (Crescenta Valley), 41. Cameron Smith (Great Oak), 48. John Gathuu (ML King), 52. Carson Smith (Great Oak).