Deep Dive: How Does Mt. SAC Affect CIF-SS Teams at State?

As long as the Southern Section prelims and finals have been at Mt. SAC, people have speculated about the affect the difficult course has on the legs of the teams that advance to the state meet. No other section has their athletes go through such a rigorous two-week championship process. The Sac Joaquin comes the closest with Frogtown followed by Willow Hills, but then they give their runners a weekend off before the state meet to recover. The CCS and SDS finals are both on tough courses, but they don't have a prelims round the week before (and CCS also has a weekend off before the state meet).

Unlike in the past, however, we can actually compare Mt. SAC to a valid alternative: the three years that the CIF-SS Finals were in Riverside (plus 2 more years when the prelims were in Riverside with the finals at Mt. SAC). By calculating the average finish for all Southern Section teams in 2017-2019 and comparing that to the same figure for 2012-2014, we can get at least a small idea of the difference that the Riverside course made during the time that it stood in for Mt. SAC. Here is the raw data:


Average Southern Section Finish at State


The unexpected conclusion: the Southern Section actually did BETTER at the state meet in 2012-2014, when their prelims and finals were both at Mt. SAC, than in 2015-2019, when one or both were at Riverside. The combined average finish for 2012-2014 is 6.26, compared to 7.1 for 2015-2019 and 7.24 for 2017-2019. Is this definitive proof that Mt. SAC actually benefits CIF-SS teams? Absolutely not. This is just a statistical shapshot trying to shine a light on something that can't truly be either proven or disproven.

One additional caveat here: I have always believed that the real effect of prelims and finals at Mt. SAC shows up the week AFTER the state meet at the national championship competitions. I didn't measure that here, and to be honest, I'm not sure how I could measure that.

One other interesting trend emerged from this data: in which divisions is the Southern Section the most dominant at the state meet? Check out the results:

D1 Boys

D1 Girls

D2 Boys

D2 Girls

D3 Boys

D3 Girls

D4 Boys

D4 Girls

D5 Boys

D5 Girls





Unequivocally, the answer is Division 2. The only other divisions that had an average finish below 6 were D1 Boys and D4 Girls. Interestingly, the D3 and D5 girls were the least competitive at the state meet. And yet, even in those two divisions, the data clearly shows a better performance at the state meet in 2012-2014 compared to 2017-2019.

Ultimately, the question remains unanswered. Is Mt. SAC the forge that creates championship Southern Section teams, or is it the mountain that fatigues their legs before they can even get to the state meet? If nothing else, we can say that the question isn't as simple as it seems.