RECAP Takeaways from Stellar Cool Breeze XC Invitational

Isaiah Givens (left), Dalia Frias (in yellow), and Sadie Engelhardt (3334) put on a show on the 3-mile course at the Cool Breeze evening Invitational on Friday night in Pasadena. (Josh Barber photos)


Cross country in the fall returned to the Southern Section for the first time since November of 2019 when 115 teams and roughly 4,000 athletes took to the new 3-mile course in Pasadena adjacent to the Rose Bowl on Friday night for the Cool Breeze Evening Invitational. In the Sundown Showdown elite showcase races, a freshman girl and senior boy dropped impressive performances, but that was only part of the story of this 18-race event.

Here are some of the storylines from Friday's stellar event:

Local Boy Isaiah Givens Crushes Rose Bowl 3-Miler

Under the header "Local Boys Does Good" this Pasadena High senior certainly made himself at home on the new 3-mile layout north and northwest of the Rose Bowl Stadium. Isaiah Givens, who spent part of his summer training in Big Bear with the juggernaut Newbury Park team, had a 21-second lead over Hart's Jaden Wiley at the 1.5 turn and just continued to separate from the rest of the field. On a course where halfway-point leaders struggled to maintain that lead, Givens ate up the gradual uphill and crushed the final slight downhill to the finish in 14:08.1, 40.2 seconds ahead of the next runner. While others in the lead pack at the halfway point exchanged positions, Agoura rising star Ethan Godsey was the outlier, picking up seven spots over the final half of the race to cross second in 14:48.3. Wiley was third in 14:53.4 and Claremont's Chris Coles was fourth in 14:55.0. 

Freshman Sadie Engelhardt is the real deal

Yeah, the hype is warranted. In freshman Sadie Engelhardt's first high school race for Ventura HS, this youth record-setter went head-to-head with returning senior stars like Mira Costa's Dalia Frias and Newbury Park's Samantha McDonnell and went out and negative-split the Sundown Showdown elite race to win in 15:59.9. She and Frias were shoulder-to-shoulder heading toward the finish chute. Frias crossed second in 16:01.1 and McDonnell was well back in third, 16:53.0. Isabella Duarte of Saugus made up seven spots over the final half of the race to place fourth in 16:57.9. But what a start for the freshie!!

Yes, Newbury Park also has an elite girls team

Just a reminder that Coach Sean Brosnan's girls' team won the Southern Section and CIF-State Division 2 titles in 2019 and they undoubtedly have a repeat performance in Division 1 for 2021 squarely in the crosshairs. Senior Samantha McDonnell's third-place finish led a victory and a 114-point margin over runner-up Great Oak. What's maybe even more impressive than the margin of victory is the fact that at the halfway point, NewburyPark was at 49 points with JSerra next at 155 and Great Oak in fifth at 205. The Panthers started out so hot, the fact they lost placing spots over the last 1.5-miles really didn't matter here. But watch out as the season matures and negative splits potentially become more of a thing. Also scoring for Newbury Park: Junior Ailish Hawkins made up two spots in the second half of the race to place sixth (17:09.9), senior Lexi Darley lost nine spots but still placed 16th (17:31.6), freshman Tiffany Sax lost five positions but still placed 19th (17:38.6) and sophomore Danielle Brotcke slipped 11 spots while placing 32nd in 18:02.4 as the top five scorers for the Panthers. 

Great Oak is still Great Oak

While all eyes will be on the Wolfpack now under first-year coach Tammy Draughon, the perennial section and state champions showed they are fit, deep, and expect to win. Great Oak won both freshman large school division races, had an individual winner in the JV Boys race (Nick Gaffney), and was a 33-point winner in the Sundown Showdown Boys elite varsity race. In the Freshman Girls race, Maelin Nunez made up an 8.3-second gap at the 1.5-mile mark to win in 19:23.9 and classmate Avery Smith held off Newbury Park's Abigail Round by 0.1 for second in 19:39.0. Great Oak won that team title by 50 points over Santa Monica. In the Freshman Boys race, Mira Costa's Ian Hansen made up a 6.9-second gap at the midway point to win the individual title. His single point helped Mira Costa to 65 points and second place to a Great Oak team that had 48 points led by Jacob Brown (second in 16:39.6), Westin Brown (fourth in 16:40.3), and Jack Paradise (fifth in 16:41.2. Twins Carson Smith and Cameron Smith led the varsity boys in the Sundown Showdown race, placing fifth and sixth respectively. Siblings Mark Cortes and Ramses Cortes were 13th and 16th overall and Brandon Wilk was the fifth scorer, 27th overall in 15:22.3. Ramses Cortes was the biggest mover, picking up 12 spots over the final 1.5 miles. (Note: Defending Section D-2, State D-II, and Team Nationals winner Newbury Park did not run its top boys. So, we'll revisit the competition for CA's alpha boys team in a couple of weeks at Woodbridge.) The GO girls were a distant second to Newbury Park in the elite race but packed well other than junior leader Kelli Gaffney, who made up eight spots late to place 12th in 17:24.3. The next seven runners placed between 40th and 57th with six of them picking up between two and 19 placing spots.

Trends of the new 3-mile course

Meet director Bill Reeves, the coach at Claremont, moved the course to the far west side of the Brookside Golf Course, adjacent to the Rose Bowl Stadium. This one trekked north up and around a fairway to a right hairpin just before the 1-mile marker, south to another right hairpin at the 1.5-mile marker, and then repeated that paperclip-like loop that sends the runners south again but this time all the way to the finish. The trend was that the leaders at the 1.5-mile split struggled to hold positions. In 12 of the 18 races, the midway leader did not win. Those that held on were Leanna Olivas of Royal (Sophomore Girls Large Division), Matthew Alpert of Agoura (Freshman Boys Small Division), JiaLian Mackey of Viewpoint (Varsity Girls Small Division), Kamryn Grossman of Valencia (Varsity Girls Large Division), Christoph Waligorski of Redondo Union (Varsity Boys Large Division), and Isaiah Givens of Pasadena (Sundown Showdown Boys). 

Best From West

West Torrance, competing in the Small Schools Division races, won team titles in both JV Boys and Varsity Boys and had individual winners in Aaron Cohen (JV Boys), and Conor Gibson (Varsity Boys). Cohen made up two position spots and a 5.3-second deficit to win in 16:49.2 with teammate Navier Quezada second in 17:04.6. Gibson threw down one of the best performances of the meet, making up 11 position spots over the final 1.5 miles to win in 14:55.0, the fourth-fastest time of the meet! West also placed second as a team in both of the Sophomore Small Schools Division races. West placed second in the Sophomore Girls race as Liana Terrill placed third (first among scoring runners) and Ainsley Paulson was sixth (third). 

Don't Sleep On Oak Park

Kudos to the only team to take home four -- FOUR!! -- division team titles. The Eagles, competing in the Small Schools Division races, won the following team titles: JV Girls, Sophomore Girls, Freshman Girls, and Freshman Boys. Individually, Nina Rusillo won the JV Girls race in 21:06.3, making up one position point and a 4.1-second deficit over the final 1.5 miles. Teammate Analise Vidriezca was second in 21:50.7. Miranda Pinon was 10th overall (fourth) and Alexa Pinon 13th (sixth) in the Sophomore Girls race. Katarina Modrzejewski (20:53.5) and Lily Sadahiro (21:03.6) placed third and fourth, respectively, in scoring to lead the way in the Freshman Girls race. And, Grant Jones (17:25.6), Brayden Andera (17:47.8), and Mark Hodges (18:12.3) placed 1-2 and 7th among scoring runners to lead the Freshman Boys team. 

Team Winners From All 18 Races

(Listed alphabetically; Large Schools are divisions 1-2, Small Schools is divisions 3-4-5)

Agoura (Small Schools Division: Sophomore Boys)

Anaheim Canyon (Large Schools Division: JV Boys)

Crescenta Valley (Large School Division: Sophomore Boys)

Great Oak (Large Schools Division: Freshman Girls, Freshman Boys, Sundown Showdown Boys)

Madera South (Large Schools Division: Varsity Boys)

Mira Costa (Large Schools Division: Sophomore Girls)

Newbury Park (Sundown Showdown Girls)

Oak Park (Small Schools Division: JV Girls, Sophomore Girls, Freshman Girls, Freshman Boys)

Palos Verdes (Small Schools Division: Varsity Girls)

Redondo Union (Large Schools Division: JV Boys, Varsity Girls)

West Torrance (Small Schools Division: JV Boys, Varsity Boys)