XC SEASON IN REVIEW - SOUTHERN SECTION GIRLS
Freshman Sadie Engelhardt (1847), senior Dalia Frias (1030), and junior Aishling Callanan (1286) battled for the top three podium spots in Division 2 at both the Southern Section Finals and at the State Meet. (DeAnna Turner photo)
Next in a Series
Moving back to the prestigious Mt. San Antonio Course to conduct its finals for the first time since 2015, the best girls in the Southern Section tackled the iconic hills on the way to the State Championships in Fresno.
A new face in Division 1, Newbury Park, crashed the party and ended Great Oak's unprecedented streak of titles while several new faces earned their way to the State Meet for the first time.
Moving back into Division 2, Mira Costa held off the tough Anaheim Canyon and Claremont squads while Dalia Frias ascended to the top echelon of athletes in the nation.
A squad of all new faces came together when it counted most as Palos Verdes defended its title with a familiar foe in Brea Olinda claiming the runner-up plaque.
JSerra was the overwhelming favorite for the Division 4 title as one of the top squads in the section, regardless of division. Despite La Canada with a late-race surge, JSerra held on to claim the team title.
Perhaps, the only upset we witnessed, Linfield Christian stopped St. Margaret's team title streak at two in earning their first in school history in the tightest of all battles.
Let's break down each division in more detail!
2021 GIRLS TOP TEAMS YEAR-END REVIEW
Making the move back into the division for the first time since 2017, the girls of Newbury Park were motivated to create their own headlines and earn another team title as they had in Division 2 during the 2019 season. Sam McDonnell paced this 2021 edition to an overwhelming 43-110 victory by placing three in the top eight and four ahead of Great Oak's second scorer. Great Oak had captured an unprecedented eight straight titles as the longest streak in Southern Section history came to an end. For the first time in a decade, the division crowned a new champion.
Having captured the Divison II State title in 2019, head coach Sean Brosnan and his Newbury Park girls had the tall task of unseating defending Div. I champion in Buchanan (CS). With Buchanan bringing its best race of the season, Newbury Park settled for the runner-up plaque here in 2021. In the final MileSplit national rankings, Newbury Park placed 12th.
With Doug Soles retiring from the Great Oak program and new head coach, Tammy Draughon taking over the reins, the girls placed fifth at the State Meet. This was the first in State Meet history where the Southern Section only had one team place in the top four (and only two in the top eight!).
Seemingly always in the shadows of Great Oak, Coley Candaele's Vista Murrieta crew peaked for the postseason perfectly once again with a third-place finish at the divisional finals. This was the 12th consecutive postseason that the Broncos advanced to the State Meet and their sixth straight top-five finish (despite not winning one league title in the process). The team placed ninth at the State Meet.
Redondo Union's girls finished fourth and advanced to the State Meet for the first time since 2014 while placing 10th in Fresno.
Advancing for the first time in school history, Huntington Beach booked their tickets to Fresno with a fifth-place finish while advancing for the first time out of Division 1, the Huskies of Chino Hills joined them for the drive up. Meanwhile, Santiago's girls advanced to the State Meet for the first time as well.
As Newbury Park switched divisions, Mira Costa also made the move albeit, into Division 2. Once fully healthy, head coach Rene Smith had the group nationally ranked and running away with their first divisional championship since 1983!
With Mira Costa blessed with one of the top trios in the state and placing three in the top nine, they had enough to hold off the feisty Canyon crew by a 73-82 margin! Not to be deterred, the girls of Claremont also kept it interesting in placing third with 98 points.
Mira Costa and Canyon moved their battle up to Fresno a week later, with the same result ensuing with the Mustangs claiming their first State Meet title by a margin of 86-123! This was only one of two team titles earned by the Southern Section in 2021. Both squads ended up ranked in our MileSplit national rankings as two of the top 25 teams in the nation.
This was the sixth straight postseason in qualifying for the State Meet by both squads with Mira Costa now advancing in 12 of the past 14 seasons! This was also only the second time a team has boasted three girls running under 18-minutes on the storied Woodward Park 5k course at the State Meet -- Great Oak had four girls do so in 2016.
After missing out the past two postseasons, Dana Hills advanced forward with a fourth-place finish and with a more impressive performance, finished with a seventh-place finish at the State Meet.
The girls of Westlake placed fifth to advance onward, as they had in 2018. Meanwhile, in a tight battle for those last two spots, Ventura (233) and El Toro (236) held off a young Citrus Valley (244) crew. This was the fifth time in six seasons that Ventura advanced to the State Meet and the Chargers' fifth straight postseason trip to Fresno.
This was one of the more difficult divisions to peg down in regard to projecting which seven squads would represent the section at the State Meet.
By mid-October, the picture became more clear as Brian Shapiro's Palos Verdes girls assembled a crew with enough firepower to defend their titles from 2018 and 2019! This was the eighth CIF-SS Title the Sea Kings have earned over the past eleven postseasons with the other three seasons yielding two runner-up plaques and the outlier being a third-place finish in 2012.
Brea Olinda challenged Palos Verdes during that 2019 run and was there once again to press for the title but, once again, settled for the second-place finish. In advancing to the State Meet, the division as a whole had a tough time with Palos Verdes placing fifth as a team and Brea placing tenth.
The only other two teams from the section to place in the top 10 at the State Meet were South Torrance and Oak Park, placing eighth and ninth respectively. Both had gone third and fourth the previous week. This was the fourth straight State Meet appearance for South Torrance while Oak Park advanced after a two-year layoff.
Dos Pueblos placed fifth at the CIF-SS Finals with Torrance at sixth and much improved Santa Margarita placing seventh to earn a spot at the State Meet.
With the Southern Section without a team in the top four for the first time, along with only four teams in the top twelve, we will see if they maintain the allocated seven spots for the 2022 State Meet.
We knew going into the season, that three of the top teams in the Southern Section were represented here as this was the most talent we've seen for this division yet. But, in the end, in our overall Southern Section merge using the State Championships, four of the top 12 and six of the top 17 squads emerged from here!
JSerra went in as heavy favorites all throughout, despite the talented squads looking to chase them down. Despite having two of their projected scorers finish outside their top five, others stepped up in their presence to hold on for the 77-94 title over a much improved La Canada crew.
After not advancing to the State Meet in 2019 and putting a halt to a 12-year streak, JSerra earned their first title since 2016 and sixth overall in the past 11 postseasons.
A week later, an almost identical scenario played out with JSerra roaring out to a huge lead at the mile mark only having to look over their shoulders to hold the fast charging La Canada group for the slim 122-131 title. La Canada earned the runner-up spot at the State Meet over San Diego Section's Sage Creek on having the faster sixth-runner.
Off the grid coming into the season, Laguna Hills emerged with a third-place finish at the CIF-SS Finals, just ahead of Harvard-Westlake.
The last three spots to the State Meet were only decided by seven points! South Pasadena claimed the fifth-place spot in the sixth-runner tie-breaker over a very talented Oaks Christian group that struggled.
Meanwhile, Bishop Amat claimed that last spot to the State Championships, by a 168-172 margin over El Segundo. This was Bishop Amat's first trip to Fresno since 2017.
The Oaks Christian girls regrouped to place fourth at the California State Meet, and only 23 points from winning! One week, they almost missed out from advancing to emerge as just missing the podium!
In, by far, the best showing from the Southern Section girls, Laguna Hills placed sixth as a team with Harvard-Westlake at eighth. Bishop Amat placed ninth with South Pasadena at tenth to place all seven qualifying squads in the top ten.
With only 23 points separating the top three squads, Linfield Christian started the season ranked outside the top three but emerged with the program's first divisional title. St. Margaret's went into the postseason primed to earn their third straight title but were denied by a 66-80 margin. Viewpoint also made it interesting in scoring 89 points to place third.
All three teams matched up well but the difference was the strength of Linfield Christian's second and third scorers once the dust settled. The group advanced onto the State Meet to earn their first State Meet plaque as well with a third-place finish. Advancing to the State Meet for the fifth year in a row, St. Margaret's finished fifth with Viewpoint placing seventh.
Our of Palm Desert, Xavier Prep advanced for the fourth straight season with a fourth-place finish and excelled at the State Meet with a sixth-place finish.
La Reina advanced back to the State Meet for the first time since 2013 while Cate was just one point behind them to earn that sixth and last spot for this year's State Meet. Due to recent showings, the section was only granted six spots for Division 5.
TOP SOUTHERN SECTION TEAMS AT THE CALIFORNIA STATE MEET
1. Newbury Park (Div. I runner-up) - 76
2. Mira Costa (Div. II State Champs) - 115
3. Canyon, Anaheim (Div. II runner-up) - 171.5
4. Great Oak (Div. 1) - 223
5. JSerra (Div. IV State Champs) - 271
6. Vista Murrieta (Div. 1) - 283.5
7. La Canada (Div. IV runner-up) - 290.5
8. Redondo Union (Div. 1) - 303
9. Oaks Christian (Div. 4) - 310.5
10. Palos Verdes (Div. 3) - 311
11. Dana Hills (Div. 2) - 311.5
12. Laguna Hills (Div. 4) - 364.5
13. Claremont (Div. 2) - 383
14. Huntington Beach (Div. 1) - 432.5
15. Chino Hills (Div. 1) - 435
16. Bishop Amat (Div. 4) - 448
17. Harvard Westlake (Div. 4) - 460
18. South Torrance (Div. 3) - 463.5
19. Santiago (Div. 1) - 469.5
20. Oak Park (Div. 3) - 485
TOP SOUTHERN SECTION TEAMS AT THE CIF-SS FINALS
(Merging of the Top 40 teams)
1. Newbury Park (Div. I Champs) - 105
2. Mira Costa (Div. 2 Champs) - 202
3. Canyon, Anaheim (Div. 2 runner-ups) - 209
4. Great Oak (Div. 1 runner-ups) - 279
5. Claremont (Div. 2) - 293.5
6. Dana Hills (Div. 2) - 326.5
7. Palos Verdes - 378 (Div. 3 Champs) - 331
8. JSerra (Div. 4 Champs) - 345.5
9. La Canada (Div. 4 runner-ups) - 366
10. Vista Murrieta (Div. 1) - 385
11. Redondo Union (Div. 1) - 415
12. Huntington Beach (Div. 1) - 434
13. Chino Hills (Div. 1) - 464.5
14. Santiago (Div. 1) - 519
15. Laguna Hills (Div. 4) - 531
16. Westlake (Div. 2) - 544
17. Brea Olinda (Div. 3 runner-ups) - 553
18. South Torrance (Div. 3) - 562
19. Harvard Westlake (Div. 4) - 583
20. Oaks Christian (Div. 4) - 603.5
2021 GIRLS TOP INDIVIDUALS YEAR-END REVIEW
The University of Alabama-bound, Samantha McDonnell (16:50.5) of Newbury Park cruised to the divisional title with a decisive 27-second victory over Saugus' Isabella Duarte. The following week, McDonnell rolled to a 17:09 at the State Meet but was outkicked for the individual title. Meanwhile, Duarte placed fourth at 17:35.
Kelli Gaffney of Great Oak placed fourth at the divisional finals (17:27.7) and reserved a spot on the podium the following week with her ninth-place finish. The Newbury Park duo Ailish Hawkins and freshman Tiffany Sax placed fifth and eighth, respectively to pave the way to the team title.
But, it was Quartz Hill junior Brianne Smith that stepped up the most at the State Championships. Also advancing as a freshman in 2019, Smith placed sixth at the divisional finals (17:39.3) and with her best race to date, earned the seventh-place medal at this year's State Meet.
The season began with Ventura freshman sensation Sadie Engelhardt outlasting Mira Costa's Dalia Frias at the Cool Breeze Invite. But, it was Frias who earned the divisional title and then backed it up with the State title! Frias' 16:52 clocking was the fastest of all Southern Section girls with Engelhardt's 16:59 performance just missing the all-time freshman State Meet record, held by Sarah Baxter (16:57) from 2010.
Frias placed eighth as a freshman at the 2018 Division I State Championships and returned for a second-place finish in 2019. The Duke University-bound senior brought back the individual title in 2021. She ended up ranked eighth in the nation in the 2021 individual rankings. Furthermore, her 16:52 clocking was the second-fastest ever (only to Sarah Baxter's 16:43) in Southern Section history in State Meet history by a senior.
A week earlier at the divisional finals, Peninsula's Aishling Callanan shined in her runner-up 17:06.7 performance ahead of Engelhardt. With the two switching spots at the State Meet, Mira Costa's Ella Parsley yielded fourth-place finishes at both post-season meets.
At the State Meet, Mira Costa's Anna Chittenden stepped it up with her best race in placing sixth (17:57.1) after placing ninth the weekend before. Claremont's Denise Chen earned a sixth-place finish at the CIF-SS finals before placing eighth at her first State Meet.
Also improving with her best race of the season, Canyon's Emma Hadley put behind an 11th-place finish at the divisional finals and excelled to the podium as an individual with a ninth-place finish (18:06.2). The senior placed in the top 10 at all three State Meets she competed!
Individually, we expected a great matchup between Agoura's Georgia McCorkle and Chino's Mia Chavez and that is exactly how it played out. Coming off a breakout track season, Chavez (off to Univ. of Arizona this fall) took home the individual title with a 17:36.1 performance. But, the UC-Berkeley bound McCorkle returned the favor a week later, albeit with a third-place finish at the State Meet just ahead of Chavez.
In her first year in the sport, Yorba Linda junior Sydney Rome was third at the CIF-SS finals and returned a week later to earn the sixth-place medal. Santa Margarita freshman Sophie Polay proved why she is one to watch next year in placing fourth at the divisional finals. Finishing as one of the top freshmen in California, her 18:12 performance yielded an eighth-place finish.
Oak Park's Madison Parrone was also impressive, placing in the top-ten at the Division III State Meet with her ninth-place finish after having fifth at the divisional finals.
While the Southern Section teams shined at the State Meet in claiming the top two spots and three in the top four, Payton Godsey of Oaks Christian led the way for the individuals. She ran away and held off a talent Arielle McKenzie to claim the CIF-SS divisional title, 17:22-17:29. Godsey placed fifth at the State Meet with the La Canada sophomore finishing in ninth.
Leading the Laguna Hills resurgence, freshman Holly Barker made headlines early on and placed third at the divisional finals. A week later, she placed sixth.
Also ascending to a top-ten finish, La Canada's Katelyn Matarese stepped it up after placing sixth at the divisional finals. Fourth as an individual at the CIF-SS finals, Oaks Christian's Grace Geyer finished behind Matarese for an 11th-place finish. Brynn Garcia led the victorious JSerra crew with her fifth-place finish at the divisional finals.
The runaway favorite, JiaLian Mackey of Viewpoint, lived up to expectations in a commanding 17:56 performance to win the divisional title. Unfortunately, she was unable to come back a week later to duplicate the performance and faded to an 11th-place finish over the last mile.
Bouncing back from a disappointing sixth-place finish at the divisional finals, St. Margaret's Liesel Blau rolled at the State Meet. Her third-place finish matched the same showing put forth in 2019 when she was a freshman.
Leading her squad to the CIF-SS title, Linfield Christian's Ryley Burns was second to Mackey at the divisional finals before coming back for a ninth-place finish at the State Meet. She was fifth at the 2019 State Meet as a sophomore.
Also finishing in the top ten from the section at the State Meet was Sierra Canyon's Isis Diaz. The senior saved her best for last after only placing 12th at the divisional finals to claim the last qualifying spot for individuals. She placed eighth at the 2018 state meet as a freshman.
TOP GIRLS AT THE CALIFORNIA STATE MEET
1. Dalia Frias (Mira Costa) 16:52.0
2. Sadie Engelhardt (Ventura) 16:58.7
3. Samantha McDonnell (Newbury Park) 17:08.7
4. Isabella Duarte (Saugus) 17:34.9
5. Payton Godsey (Oaks Christian) 17:35.3
6. Aishling Callanan (Peninsula) 17:35.4
7. Ella Parsley (Mira Costa) 17:45.5
8. Brianne Smith (Quartz Hill) 17:47.4
9. Georgia McCorkle (Agoura) 17:52.3
10. Mia Chavez (Chino) 17:55.0
11. Anna Chittenden (Mira Costa) 17:57.1
12. Kelli Gaffney (Great Oak) 17:59.1
13. Denise Chen (Claremont) 18:03.7
14. Tiffany Sax (Newbury Park) 18:03.8
15. Emma Hadley (Canyon, Ana.) 18:06.2
15. Isabella Smith (Vista Murrieta) 18:06.2
17. Ailish Hawkins (Newbury Park) 18:06.6
18. Sydney Rome (Yorba Linda) 18:09.5
19. Sophie Polay (Santa Margarita) 18:11.8
20. Holly Barker (Laguna Hills) 18:12.5
20. Lyla Fedio (Redondo Union) 18:12.5
22. Madison Parrone (Oak Park) 18:14.2
23. Allura Markow (Dana Hills) 18:17.2
24. Arielle McKenzie (La Canada) 18:22.4
25. Hayden Washington (West Ranch) 18:24.3
Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA as the Southern Section editor.
Photos by DeAnna Turner, Patrick Corsinita, Raymond Tran.