Sometimes when we have huge expectations for mid-season invitational, the actual races turn out to be a little disappointing. That can be for many reasons: a key athlete missing, a team or two in a training cycle that have them fatigued, or race strategies don't align to create the drama we hope to see. On Saturday, the Clovis Invite championship races justified our anticipation, providing both close battles and historically dominant performances.
The action started with the girls' championship, where we got to witness intense duels for both the individual and team titles. Sam McDonnell (Newbury Park) and Sadie Engelhardt (Ventura) raced shoulder to shoulder for the entire 5K, with McDonnell managing to pull off the slimmest of victories at the line. Her 17:02.1 makes her #17 all-time at Woodward Park (her previous best was 17:56 from the 2019 State Meet), while Engelhardt's 17:02.3 is a freshman class meet record and just a few seconds off the frosh course record (Sarah Baxter, 2010 - 16:57).
McDonnell's single point was not quite enough to push the Panthers past Buchanan, however, as the Bears defended their home course and claimed the team championship by eight points (57 - 65). The two will meet up once again later next month as Buchanan looks to defend their 2019 State Title. Newbury Park claimed the Division 2 title that same postseason. Juniors Sydney Sundgren (17:36.5) and Grace Hutchison (17:41.9) led Buchanan, who finished in an impressive 52-second scoring gap.
With Newbury Park finishing with an 89:44 team time, moved up to seventh on the all-time Woodward Park team time list. Joining Great Oak, Saugus, Davis, and Buchanan to become over the fifth squad to break the coveted 90-minute threshold. Meanwhile, Buchanan's final team time sits at 90-minutes even, as they were only 14 seconds behind their State Championship performance from 2019.
A little further back in the team results, the Sac-Joaquin section had a strong showing with Oak Ridge placing third. Placing fifth at the 2019 State Meet, the Trojans have found that crucial fifth scorer to emerge as a favorite for a podium spot next month.
Meanwhile, Granite Bay took fifth, just behind Great Oak's girls. Canyon (Anaheim) and St. Francis, two Division II foes, finished sixth and seventh with only six points between them.
Individually, Albany's Sophia Nordenholz ran a massive personal best of 17:28.0 to finish 3rd, holding off Maddie Coles (Claremont) as she continues her excellent senior campaign with her 17:28.9. Coles' previous best on the Woodward Park course was 17:45, from her freshman year when she placed second at the 2018 State Meet in pacing her Claremont squad to the Division II State Title.
Anna McNatt (McClatchy) continued her impressive season with a fifth-place finish in 17:33.
When the boys took the course, we switched from watching super close battles to finding out just how fast this Newbury Park monster can run. The fastest front four in history separated quickly from the rest of the field after a very controlled 4:37 opening mile. With strong surges all throughout the back part of the course, Colin Sahlman after the two-mile mark to break away to claim the win. His time of 14:29.4 elevates him to the second-fastest time in Clovis Invitational history and the third-fastest all-time on the historic course. Coming back from placing fourth at the Woodbridge Invitation, Sahlman was only 0.4 seconds behind former teammate Nico Young. Nico's younger brothers Leo and Lex finished second and third in 14:33.2 and 14:34.6, respectively, while Colin's brother Aaron crossed in fourth at 14:43.5. For perspective, Aaron Sahlman's time would have been the 10th-fastest in course history if it weren't for his teammates in front of him! As it stands, Newbury Park put four into the Top 13 on the All-Time list at Woodward Park (Leo 4th, Lex 5th), all in the same race. Including the alum Nico Young, they now own five of the top 13 times on the nostalgic course - and in only the past three seasons!
As we have almost run out of hyperboles and superlatives... That is absolutely mind-boggling! That front four is so amazing that they made their fifth scorer Hector Martinez (15:15.9) and #6 Daniel Appleford (15:18.4) seem pedestrian, when in fact they placed 12th and 15th - ahead of the #2 runners from every other team except Clovis.
Great Oak finished solidly in 2nd place in the team scoring, 95 points ahead of West Torrance but yet, still 135 points behind the Panthers. As we had West Torrance ranked sixth in the Southern Section, they ran true to form. But, it was Crescenta Valley and San Clemente that continue to reveal their full arsenals as we approach the postseason here in less than a month. Transfer junior Parker Simmons debuted with a stellar 15:30.4 effort to pace his Crescenta Valley crew to a fourth-place team finish, just ahead of an ever-improving San Clemente group.
Meanwhile, Bay Area rival powerhouses and two of the best in California for Division 1, Dublin and Bellarmine College Prep rounded out the top seven squads. Aside from Loyola, we received a quick sneak peek at the powers that will collide once again for a spot on the podium (next to Newbury Park of course) later next month at the California State Meet.
In the category of "oh so close," Zachary Ayers (Davis SJ) and Christopher Caudillo (Clovis) both clocked exactly 15:00.0. Davis' Ayers elevated himself into the conversation as one of the state's best as he was credited with the fifth-place finish and a 43-second personal best on the Woodward Park course.
Just behind them at 15:04.6, Alex Mader (Lick Wilmerding) won a battle between two of California's small-school stars when he edged out Santa Fe Christian's Mark Trammell (15:08.6) for seventh. In 2019 as a sophomore, Trammell's came in with a 16:49 best on the course!