XC SEASON IN REVIEW - SAN DIEGO SECTION
Francis Parker senior Kenan Pala won the San Diego Section and CIF-State titles in Division V and was the runner-up at the Eastbay Cross Country National Finals at Morley Field. (Patrick Corsinita photo)
Two individual state champions and two Eastbay Cross Country National Finals qualifiers is quite an accomplishment.
The San Diego Section dominated Division V at the CIF-State Meet by sweeping both the boys and girls individual championships, as well as a runner-up placing by Santa Fe Christian's boys team.
Of course, there were some setbacks, most notably when the state's No. 1-ranked girls Division III team, Cathedral Catholic, had three runners catch a cold the week of the section championships that spread to the rest of the team by the State Meet. Even coach Dan Geiger was subpar on race day. It happens.
Sage Creek's girls' quest for a third straight State Division IV title was not to be as JSerra placed three runners in the top 20 and then, the Bobcats were aced out of the runner-up trophy, nine points out of first when La Canada's No. 6 runner proved the difference when the two teams tied for second.
All year Otay Ranch, Grossmont, and Mt. Carmel jockeyed for the No. 1 team position and sure enough, all three were the only ones under a team time of 1:20:00 at the San Diego Section finals. Since the Ross Bartel-coached Grossmont team had the fastest time of the three, 1:19:23 to win D-II over Shan Forehand's Mt. Carmel's 1:19:53, the Foothillers were ranked No. 1. Julian Valdez's Otay Ranch club won D-I with 1:19:44 to grab second.
Way back in 10th place was Demian Kloer's Santa Fe Christian crew -- led by seniors Alex Bobowski and Mark Trammell (pictured) -- which went 2-3 in the D-V race but was edged by four points by No. 8 Francis Parker. The State Meet was an entirely different story as SFC not only finished 3-4 but had its first four scorers in the top 30 to place second to Lick Wilmerding. Not only that, the Eagles' aggregate time of 1:21.25 was the fastest of the day for any San Diego Section team, including Grossmont (1:21.43), Otay Ranch (1:22.35), and Mt. Carmel (1:22.48).
This was a season of vast potential that seemed to meet unexpected roadblocks virtually every week. Teams like Cathedral Catholic, Torrey Pines, Sage Creek, and Poway started the season with state championship hopes that never materialized.
The illness that swept through Cathedral Catholic is one of the things coaches throughout the state with title aspirations fear. That and injuries. Geiger said the three girls who had colds the week before were better for State but the other four were worse. Given those conditions, a third-place finish for a podium spot by the Dons at State was a major accomplishment.
Although Sage Creek showed signs of possibly making a strong run, especially winning the section with just 22 points, it wasn't to be. The Bobcats placed third. Poway returned its entire team from a year earlier but going against Mira Costa was a lost cause and the Titans, despite placing two runners in the top 15, finished fifth. Torrey Pines won Division I at the section meet but the Falcons were no match for Buchanan and Newbury Park at the State Meet, finishing seventh.
You can't get any better than Pala, who captured the section and state titles while going unbeaten throughout the season, including posting the second-fastest time ever over the Mt. SAC Invitational course of 14:58.4. The bigger the meet, the better Pala performed, finishing in second place at the Eastbay National Cross Country Championships at Morley Field.
On seven different occasions, the runner in close proximity to Pala was Santa Fe Christian's Mark Trammell. As the season progressed, SFC's Alex Bobowski, one of the state's best in 2019, got better and better so that in the state finals, while Pala (14:51.0) was handing future Yale teammate Alex Mader of Lick Wilmerding (14:56.3) a rare 5-second loss, right behind them were Trammell and Bobowski in third and fourth. Quite a showing for the section's Coastal League to go 1-3-4. Pala posted the best non-Newbury Park time with his 14:51, the fastest for all of the San Diego runners.
It was no surprise that Sage Creek's Bryce Gilmore (pictured) -- Trammell's future college teammate at Wake Forest -- was the section's next-fastest individual at State as he posted a 15:08.0 behind Big Bear's Max Sannes, finishing second in Division IV. Only Grossmont's Ian Rosen (7th in D-II at 15:37.2) and San Diego High Tech High's Nate Osborn (5th in D-IV at 15:30.9) also cracked the Top 10 at State.
While Revere finished with an impressive rush, the top individual all season was Sage Creek's Stormy Wallace. The UC Davis-bound Wallace just happened to be in the fastest division at the state finals, Division IV, where she finished fourth behind the North Coast Section duo of senior Sophia Nordenholz (16:46.0) and sophomore Olivia Williams (16:56.2) and Scott's Valley's Ashlyn Boothby (17:27.1) in 17:34.0. That would have won Division III and Division V, where Revere handled the field, winning by 11 seconds in 18:19.1. Wallace won the section in 17:20.9, almost a full minute in front, and the fastest time of the day at Morley Field.
The feel-good story for 2021 was the return of Rancho Bernardo's Jacey Farmer (pictured). As a freshman, she was one of the five best in the state but soccer injuries slowed her the next two years so in the spring she jettisoned that sport to focus on cross country. Farmer looked her old self when she won the section D-I race, smiling as she crossed the finish line in 17:26.8. No one expected anything of her at State, but she wanted to erase some bad memories, placing fifth in 17:41.4.
Poway's Mackenzie Rogers started the season off fast and finished the same way, winning the section D-II title in 17:40.5 before just missing the top 10 at state, placing 11th in 18:09.4. Sophomore teammate Tessa Buswell, who figures to be a major factor from 800-3200 in track, was 15th in 18:09.4. The Compton girls, Point Loma's Sophie and La Costa Canyon's Kyra, fared well at State. Sophie Compton, the SDS D-III champ, finished 10th at State in 18:21.0 --- two places ahead of Kyra Compton's 18:26.7. Kyra's performance was a nice cap to coach Bill Vice's highly-successful career.
Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA
Photos by DeAnna Turner, Angel Pena, Kirby Lee/Image of Sport, Patrick Corsinita