Kenan Pala of Francis Parker leads the Division 1 race at the Mt. Carmel Invitational. (Phil Grooms photo)
SAN DIEGO -- This was supposed to be the week that Francis Parker's Kenan Pala would be challenged.
And he was -- for half of the Division I Senior/Invite at the 41st Mt. Carmel Invitational Saturday over Balboa Park's challenging 2.95-mile course, site of the Foot Locker National Championships.
When Pala decided it was time to go, however, no one, not even Los Angeles Loyola's Richard Moreno, could stay with him as the Division V senior clocked a 14:58.4 to win by 41 seconds.
"I wanted to make a statement," said the Yale-bound senior after his third win in as many races so far this fall. "This was considered an historic field and I don't think I'll ever run 2.95 miles again. I credit meditating 10 minutes a day, seven days a week, tuning everything out, and being in the moment."
The 41-second gap was Pala's closest so far this season, dropping his average margin of victory to 53 seconds.
"This is my race," he said, "so I went out with the pack for the first mile. The first hill I made a move and around the Dog Loop I made another one.
"This is one of the three biggest wins of my career."
Moreno was impressed as he led the Cubs who as a team dominated virtually every race.
"I knew he could jet -- he'd run a 9:02 two-mile," said Moreno. "At first I stayed with him and I thought, 'he's not moving too fast.' Then he took off and I couldn't stay with him."
Loyola (SS) went 5-6-7 and easily won the team title with 26 points.
Rancho Bernardo's Jacey Farmer captured the Division I girls' race, contested over 2.75 miles, in 16:03.8, edging Oceanside El Camino's McCall Dame (16:10.5) and Mira Mesa junior Mallory Asis (16:27.9).
For Farmer, the win was the equivalent of a sigh of relief.
When she was a freshman three years ago, she was a state 1,600-meter finalist and one of the top 9th-graders in the nation.
But as a sophomore, she clearly was not a factor and in the abbreviated season last winter, again she did not approach her freshman performances.
After that, she made the decision to drop soccer and focus on track. Immediately her training runs improved and her confidence slowly returned.
"This definitely built my confidence," said Farmer whose first surge dropped Asis on the Dog Loop, and her second left McCall in her wake.
Not that she was that confident as the three ran side-by-side through the first mile.
"The pack took off and I'll admit I was a little concerned," said Farmer. "I told myself not to get discouraged. I knew the race would be decided in the Dog Loop, so I made a move. It was really great having someone push me the whole way.
"When I started my kick I told myself to go and if I died, so be it."
Instead, that closing speed that the 6-foot-2 Farmer displayed so convincingly as a freshman, was unleashed and she was able to outrun not only her opponents but plenty of demons.
In Division II, run early in the day when it was cloudy and 65 compared to windy and 78 in the afternoon, Tucson (AZ) Salpointe Catholic's Kylie Wild, the 2019 Arizona state D-III champion, impressively motored around the course in the fastest time of the day, 15:35.9, well ahead of Mt. Carmel (SD) senior Sydney Paul, who was second in 15:52.0.
"I came in wanting to break 16 minutes," said Wild. "I stayed with the pack and the plan was to move on the downhills. I threw in a surge here and there."
For the boys, Dana Hills (SS) senior Jai Dawson and San Diego Hilltop senior Jimmy Byland battled through much of the race but when Dawson decided to hit the gas, he pulled away to win in 15:39.1, topping Byland by 18 seconds.
"On this course, it's how you feel physically and mentally," said Dawson, who decided to use the fabled Upas St. hill to build his lead. "When we were close, I looked back and I could see the next guy was wobbly, so I decided to kill the hill.
"I focused on the hill three years ago and it killed me. That's maturity. If I don't get first, I'm last."
Two other races -- where Dana Hills and the Loyola boys dominated -- were interesting battles in the Division I junior events.
Del Norte's Hannah Riggins, one of the state's best early 3200-meter runners in the 2021 outdoor track season, decided to skip the invitational and won her race in 16:27.7, just two seconds in front of Aliso Niguel's Danna Ibarra (16:27.7).
"It was a glorified tempo race for me," said Riggins of her 2021 debut. "I don't want to go into the season with too fast of a time. After my fast start in track, it was discovered I was low on iron."
"I did not expect a 1-2," said Leonard. "I was just looking for a top 10 finish. I ran 18:30 here as a freshman, so I just wanted to improve. We were side-by-side with 800 meters to go and I pushed it."
Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA.
Inserted photos by Phil Grooms and Jeffrey Parenti.