30 Boys Teams to Watch this Fall: Loyola (SS)

It's time to get fired up for cross country! Our traditional XC countdown is back, although it may look a little different this time around - our longtime data analyst Jeff George has moved on, leaving this energizing project to the MileSplit team in CA. Our collective goal is to briefly highlight 30 boys and 30 girls teams that we think will have an impact this fall. We will spotlight one team per gender per day over a 30-day period. Similar to past countdowns, we will provide a cross-sampling of teams from all 10 sections without regard to statewide or even division ranking (those will come later, as will articles previewing each section, and returning athletes to watch). As always, if you catch an error or have updated information for us, email CA state editor Jeffrey Parenti (jeffrey.parenti@flosports.tv) and we'll make the corrections.

You might be surprised for us to feature a squad that graduated their top three and four of their scoring five from a year ago.  That 2021 squad placed third at the California State Cross Country Meet for Division 1, matching their performance from the previous week at the CIF-SS Finals.

But, no squad continually reloads as well as the Cubs of Loyola. Regardless of whether they are in one of the two largest divisions, they have qualified for the State Championships every season since 2007 and placed in the top five at their divisional finals the past eight seasons. 

Head Coach Lalo Diaz has been at the helm for over 35 years as Loyola's head coach with a resume that extends back some 45 years!  In this time, his Loyola squads have captured six state titles and two runner-up plaques and possess that 'it' factor of always running their best in November.  

You do not simply pencil in Loyola for a State Meet spot,... you use a permanent marker.  As he shared with Milesplit last year, "I'm old school...I want my team to be running their fastest times at the end of the year at Woodward Park, not in September."

Loyola is projected for another run at the podium in 2022 as one must look at the program's consistent depth. Senior Jake Ratkovich leads the way, returning after a 15:53.7 at last year's State Meet.  He comes in from the oval, establishing new personal bests of 4:20.96 and 9:22.75.  His best performance of 2021 actually came at the Garmin Runninglane Championships where he was Loyola's second scorer (15:15.3) in the championship gold race.  

Senior Henry Payne ran 16:12.8 at last year's State Meet and comes into the summer with a 9:26.76 from this past Spring. Harrison Lavery focused more on the 800, coming home with a lifetime best of 1:56.33 after running a 4:28.43 as a sophomore in 2021. Incoming juniors Connor Bennett (9:48.52) and Finn Corboy (9:50.17) shined in the 3200 meters.  Expected to also contribute, as a freshman, Aaron Pavon rolled to a 4:41.69.  

Reflecting back on this past Spring and the 3200 meters, the squad was eighth in California (sixth in the Southern Section) with a 9:41.89 average for their top five returning underclassmen. In our preseason rankings, Loyola will be ranked third in the CIF-SS Division 1 and top five in the state.  

2021 Returning Times for 5000 Meters

Loyola (SS) 
1) Jake Ratkovich15:15.2910
2) Henry Payne15:46.0743
3) Harrison Lavery15:51.1251
4) Connor Bennett16:45.60242
5) Finn Corboy16:49.56266
Average Time: 16:05.53 Total Time: 1:20:27.64 1-5 Split: 1:34.27
Scores are against all returning boys teams in CA.

* * *

Mark Gardner is a teacher, former coach, in-demand announcer, and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

Photos by Daniel Hernandez