RECAP San Diego's Kenan Pala Leads Boys West Team at Eastbay


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SAN DIEGO -- You would think a team that scored just 53 points would walk away with the championship.

At section and state championships the past few weeks, that certainly was the case.

But this was the 42nd Eastbay (formerly Foot Locker) National Cross Country Championships where there are only 40 runners, 10 from each of four regions, and as it turned out Saturday, the West finished third, behind the Midwest's 32 and Northeast's 49 points.

Francis Parker's Kenan Pala, the California Division V champion, and Oregon's Tyrone Gorze, who came into the race unbeaten after winning the West Regional a week ago, certainly upheld their end of the bargain.

Pala and Gorze were among six runners who broke away from the pack and only a late surge from Riley Hough (Fenton (MI) Hartland HS) prevented Pala from becoming the first San Diego champion since AJ Acosta of El Camino won in 2005.

Going up the Upas Street hill for the second time, Pala stayed right with Connecticut's Gavin Sherry as Hough sped past both of them, opening a nice gap at the bottom of the hill moments later before holding on to win in 15:11.4 over the 5K Balboa Park course.

Pala went after Hough and closed the gap but he couldn't reel him in as Hough found one more gear the last 50 meters. Pala finished second in 15:14.8, collapsing at the finish line.

"This was my last high school race and I gave everything I had the last 400 meters," said Pala, who is headed to Yale. "I knew I'd collapse at the finish line because I gave it my all. I like being the underdog for a change.

"I feel amazing. Second? I'll take it. I was shooting for the top five (first-team All-American).

"If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn't have let (Hough) get away going up the hill. I was focused on getting past (Sherry) because I knew he had great speed.

 "I was done at the finish line."

Pala says he will now turn his attention to the track where he wants to get a sub-9 minute 3200 meters before hopefully breaking 8:50 and a sub-4:10 for 1600 meters. Heck, he's looking for a sub 2:00 for 800 and under 50-seconds for 400. Lots of goals.

"I want to channel my success and keep going," he said.

Gorze saw the smaller pack pull away and this week he was unable to close the gap, placing sixth overall in 15:26.4.

"I wanted a top 10 or better," said Gorze, a junior who very much would like another shot next year if everything works out.

"I raced a lot smarter last week. On the second hill I lost contact with the others. It would have felt amazing to stay unbeaten, but I learned for next year.

"Racing every week wasn't a problem, we're used to that. I wish I could have stayed up with Kenan but the entire experience here was amazing."

Normally, in a large field, a 12th by Medford, Oregon's Michael Maiorano (15:33.7), a 15th by Portland Oregon's Charlie North (15:34.6), and an 18th by Lehi Utah's Jefferson McMullin (15:36.8) would be applauded for good grouping.

But not here.

Not with the Midwest going 1, 4, 5, 8, and 14 to win behind Hough with 32 points and the Northeast finishing second behind Sherry at 3, 7, 9, 13, 17.

Idaho Falls sophomore Luke Athay placed 20th, Davis Senior (SJ) senior Zach Ayers -- a recent Air Force Academy commit -- crossed 21st, and Big Bear (SS) senior Max Sannes -- another AFA commit -- placed 22nd after making up double-digit places over the second half of the race. Santa Fe Christian senior Mark Trammell, headed to Wake Forest and Pala's Coastal League rival, placed 36th. Tualatin, Oregon's Caleb Lakeman (40th) rounded out the team.

Ayers was sixth in the West Regional at Mt. SAC after placing fifth at the State Meet. He won the Sac-Joaquin Division  I section title.

His fifth place at State was behind four Newbury Park runners who may very well have all been in the top 5 Saturday, changing the whole dynamic of the race. But the Panthers elected to go to RunningLane championships in Alabama last week, which they also dominated going 1-2-3 ahead of Hough.

Sannes, the final West qualifier, had highlights of winning the State D-IV title in 15:00.5 as well as the Southern Section Division IV crown, covering the 2.93-mile Mt. SAC course in 15:11.4.

Trammell, who placed second in the San Diego Section behind Pala (15:00.0) and third in the State (15:12.0), was the eighth-leading West qualifier.

Photo by Olivia Ekpone

Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA as the San Diego editor.