XC SEASON IN REVIEW - SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION
McClatchy junior Anna McNatt followed up her Sac-Joaquin Section title with a CIF-State Division I title and a spot on the line at Eastbay Nationals. (Dan Tyree photo)
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The Sac Joaquin Section Cross Country season in review takes a look at the past season, the present athletes who made their mark and takes a quick look at some rising stars who will shine brighter next season.
At the last section meet in 2019, three winners would go on to win CIF-State titles, Jesuit's Matt Strangio, Alexandra Klos of Vista Del Lago, and Riley Chamberlain of Del Oro. While the section was not able to produce a similar number of titles in 2021, there were several noteworthy achievements and the future looks bright as several underclass runners made their mark this season.
Coming into the 2021 season, there were few givens. Strangio graduated and is now running at the University of Portland. Klos, a sophomore in 2019 and one of the expected elite returners for 2021, opted not to compete in cross country, instead she chose to focus on soccer where she has signed with the top-ranked collegiate women's soccer team in the U.S., Santa Clara University. Based on some of the meets that were run in the abbreviated track season it was clear there were some very talented runners who would be battling for State Meet podiums when championship season came around.
Jesuit rolled to its 19th Sac-Joaquin Section championship, ended up fifth at State and while the Marauders lose their low stick in Braden King, who will be attending Yale, coach Walt Lange knows how to develop talent and the returning top three of Jacob Swanson, Brandon Moreno and Chase Cressman will leave them well positioned to make a run at section title number 20.
Vacaville (pictured) was a revelation this year despite missing out on the talents of Kellen Steplight, who fought back from injury to join the team in time for the State Meet where they finished fifth for head coach David Monk following a 20-point Division 2 victory at the SJS Final.
Look for Steplight to continue his comeback and make his mark in the track season where he was a 1,600-meter qualifier for the State Meet as a freshman.
Coach Guy Fowler's D-3 section champion at Oakdale finished a solid third at the State Meet, led by junior Caleb Cavanaugh (who will be the top returner to State next year), and returns all but its No. 3 runner next year. The list includes junior Dax Daley, who was the runner-up to Cavanaugh in the section final.
Cavanaugh will have tough competition in the SJS as well, as Nevada Union's Wes Selby slots in as the second-fastest returner to State next year.
Placer was 11 points better than El Dorado for the SJS D-4 title, but, behind junior Benjamin Sallee's 18th-place finish (among team-scoring runners), El Dorado placed ninth at State and Placer was 17th.
It was a strong year for the SJS girls teams, particularly in the top three divisions where each SJS champion ended up with podium spots at State: Coach Chad Worthen's Oak Ridge girls (pictured), led by seniors Kayla Rutz and Ava Maier, were third in D-I, Granite Bay, led by junior Carly Foster, placed third in D-II, and Del Oro, led by Chamberlain, was the State runner-up in D-III.
Additionally, Oak Ridge competed in the RunningLane National Championships and placed eighth in the U.S., CIF-State Division I champion Buchanan (CS) was the only California team to place ahead of Oak Ridge on the fast track at Huntsville, AL.
Bret Harte, led by junior Kadyn Rolleri, was 23 points better than Vacaville Christian Academy for the SJS D-5 title.
Granite Bay has the brightest future on paper. The team, headed by coaches Carla Kehoe and Jeff Adkins, will have all five of its State Meet scorers back in the competitive D-2 fields where the two teams ahead of them are losing significant contributors to graduation.
For the boys, Zachary Ayers of Davis (pictured), Adin Dibble of Sonora, and Braden King of Jesuit led the section pack with all ending up on the podium at the State Meet. Ayers was 19 seconds faster than King for the SJS D-1 title.
In a year where Newbury Park may have laid claim as the fastest high school cross country team of all-time, Ayers broke up their run at a perfect 15-point total by finishing fifth in the Division I boys race at Woodward Park, and he followed that up with a sixth-place finish at the Eastbay Regional at Mt. SAC, qualifying to represent the West Region at the Eastbay Nationals at Morley Field in San Diego.
King (pictured) wrapped up his season by winning the Silver Race at the RunningLane Nationals in a scorching 14:50 on the fast 5K course in Alabama.
All three of these runners are accomplished 3,200-meter runners on the track and should contend for medals at the State Meet in May.
Pitman's Damian Garcia was eight seconds better than Ponderosa sophomore Josh Chu for the D-2 title. The D-4 race was top-heavy with Dibble and frosh star Broen Holman crossing first with the same clocking while the Stockton St. Mary's senior duo of Daniel Winter and Elijah Sullivan were the next two across. Dibble was fourth at State, Winter seventh, Holman eighth, and Sullivan 11th.
D-5 was a runaway for Sacramento Country Day freshman Andrew Burr, who went on to place 13th at State in a division where four ninth-graders landed among the top 28.
As we look back on the results from the State Meet, one thing is clear, the Sac Joaquin Section girls had quite a year and are poised for continued success in 2022.
Anna McNatt ran some great races throughout the season, but she waited until she arrived at the biggest stage in the State before unleashing her masterpiece.
Coming off the SJS Division 1 title, the McClatchy junior took the line in the large school race at State with Southern Section champion Sam McDonnell of Newbury Park, an Alabama signee, as the prohibitive favorite. But McNatt bided her time until the final 200 meters where she put a final push in to overtake McDonnell and win the State Division I title. McNatt subsequently went on to qualify eighth at the Eastbay Regionals and represented the West Region at the Eastbay Cross Country National Finals in San Diego.
Riley Chamberlain (pictured at right above) headed to Fresno the weekend after Thanksgiving as a three-time SJS D-3 champion and two-time State D-III winner, and favorite. But a third title wasn't to be as precocious freshman Hanne Thomsen of Montgomery (NC) took the lead early in the race and never gave it up, despite Chamberlain's strong close to grab the runner-up spot. Chamberlain will be running for 2021 NCAA Division 1 runners-up BYU after graduation.
Both senior Tatiana Cornejo of St. Francis (fifth place D-II) and junior Katie Kopec of Whitney (seventh D-II) had strong finishes to cap outstanding seasons. Kopec was a 4.30-second winner over Granite Bay's Foster for the SJS title in D-2, with St. Francis senior Cate Joaquin placing third and Cornejo next (pictured).
Woodland senior Mahalia Quintana won the D-4 title and went on to place seventh at State, with a 5K PR of 18:18.0. In D-5, Summerville senior Sofia Vasquez was a narrow winner over Argonaut sophomore Maeve Klement in D-5 with Bret Harte's Rolleri third. The order was reversed on the 5K course at Woodward Park with Rolleri placing 22nd (16th among team-scoring runners), Klement was 29th and Vasquez was 30th. Vasquez beat Klement by 5.40 seconds in the SJS final, but Klement was 0.40 faster to the line at State.
FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Looking forward to next season, McNatt will enter 2022 as the favorite to defend both SJS and State titles, and Granite Bay will have their eyes firmly focused on making a run at a State Meet team title in Division II.
The section seems positioned to have some solid boys teams and individuals. It should be particularly interesting to see if Sonora freshman Broen Holman (1270 above) is able to maintain his meteoric rise. Within the state, his main competition in Division IV appears to be Sean Morello, who will be looking to add an individual State title to the one his Albany team won this year, and Morello's teammate Lucas Cohen.
Girls to keep an eye on include Kopec of Whitney, Foster of Granite Bay, and Morgan Parnow of Nevada Union.
Dan Tyree is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA.
MileSplitCA editor Jeffrey Parenti contributed to this report.
Photos by Dan Tyree, James Leash, Kirby Lee/Image of Sport