WALNUT, CALIFORNIA -- Although most of the runners competing in the 73rd Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational on Friday were testing the 'new' course for the first time, it looked like San Diego runners and teams made themselves right at home.
Of the four sweepstakes races, two were captured by athletes from San Diego and two of the team titles went to Cathedral Catholic's boys and girls teams.
San Diego was expected to fare well in the smaller Division 3-4-5 races, but not quite this well.
For starters, Francis Parker's Kenan Pala, a Yale University recruit, came within a step of eclipsing the course record as he clocked a time of 14:24.0 over the 3-mile course that returned to its original configuration after a six-year hiatus while Hilmer Lodge Stadium was being built.
Pala's time is second only to the 14:23.20 run by Brea-Olinda's Austin Tamagno in 2014 and equaled winning times posted by Arcadia's Ammar Moussa (14:24.0 in 2010) and Phillip Rocha (14:24.0 in 2015).
He wasn't told how close he'd come to setting the record until finishing the last race of the competition which continues today with Divisions I and 2.
"If I'd known I was that close with 400 meters left, I would have gotten it," said the senior who won by 24 seconds over Big Bear senior Max Sannes and 30 seconds in front of Pasadena senior Isaiah Givens. "I went hard but I could have gone faster had I known.
"I stayed with the pack the first mile because I knew there were some great kickers in the race like Givens. I could hear them the first hill but I pushed it and by second and third hill I didn't hear them.
"I never look back but after I stopped hearing them, I decided to just relax and have some fun."
Although he had won at Mt. SAC before, this race was nothing like the one he captured in 2019 because this was the Division 3-4-5 Individual Sweepstakes, featuring many of the state's best runners in the three smallest divisions.
"My time two years ago was 16:25 so coming in here I wanted a time under 14:30 and I wanted to win. It was a real bonus when I heard how well the team did. I like winning but having the team do well is very special."
Parker finished behind another San Diego Section school, Cathedral Catholic, 139-148 in the team battle.
Pala looked carefully at the results and said he hopes he can lead the Lancers to the state Division V crown come November in Fresno.
"I know there were some Division V teams that weren't here (most notably Santa Fe Christian which is in the same league as Parker and Lick Wilmerding, led by Alex Mader, who like Pala will be attending Yale next fall). But we only lost to a Division III school (Cathedral Catholic)."
Plus, he noted Lancer varsity veteran Quinn Speaker opted to compete in the National JV Championships D3-4-5 Team Sweepstakes, where he finished second in a time that would have been good enough to place fifth in the other race.
Sage Creek UC Davis-bound senior Stormy Wallace headed up the Switchbacks just past the mile mark and said she took on a "Catch me if you can" mentality from there, opening up a 30-meter gap and running away from a strong field to win the Girls Team Sweepstakes race in 17:25. Oaks Christian sophomore Payton Godsey was second in 17:52 and La Canada sophomore Arielle McKenzie was third in 17:58.
While San Diego was setting up some fun rides home, Alaskan Daniel Abramowicz made his long trip south worthwhile as he barely edged Palos Verdes senior Luke Stefanou 15:08 to 15:09 in boys' team sweepstakes.
Stefanou was able to celebrate, however, as teammate Will Kirk followed him in third as PV won the team title by 21 points over Capistrano Valley. Capo Valley came into the meet as the No. 3 team in the state in Division 3 but Palos Verdes, which was on the bubble, was uber impressive.
In the other Individual Sweepstakes race, Agoura's Georgia McCorkle (17:37) topped Yorba Linda's Sydney Rome (17:44) as South Pasadena captured the team title by a mere two points ahead of Yorba Linda, 137-139.
As predicted, a couple of the early division races produced some fireworks, none more than the San Luis Obispo boys going 1-2-3 in the Division IV race. Although Division II in the Central Section, SLO seniors Lewis Westwood, (15:36) and Luke Holland (15:49), and junior Quinn White (16:00) swept the top three places. Harvard-Westlake was able to sneak past SS division leader Laguna Hills, 92-95, for second.
In the girls' race, JSerra teased the field by going 2-3-9-14 but without a number No. 5 runner, the team title went to Bishop Amat, which went 1-4-6-10-12 with junior Emma Arredondo leading the way at 18:52. JSerra sophomore Georgia Jeanneret and junior Anastasia Snodgrass were both awarded times of 18:58 but placing second and third, respectively. Harvard-Westlake senior Daniela Quintero was on her way to victory but lost her footing approaching the finish line and crossed sixth in 19:22, the same time also recorded for Bishop Amat sophomore Sophia Ebiner, who placed seventh.
Steve Brand is a freelance writer and regular contributor to MileSplitCA.
MileSplitCA editor Jeffrey Parenti contributed to this report.