RECAP 38th Laguna Hills Invite an Early Rewarding Experience

38th Laguna Hills Invitational

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LAGUNA HILLS -- The earliest invitationals on California high school cross-country season schedules generally know their role. They are the opening act, ones that set a tone for what's to come in the fall.

The Laguna Hills High Invitational, running its 38th annual edition on Saturday, Sept. 10, relishes its place on the calendar.

The phrase "OCXC Starts Here" is seen when visiting the website for race information. There are banners inside and outside the on-campus football and track stadium where both the start and finish line exist for the popular and competitive Kevin Dempsey Cross-Country Course.

"Each runner has got to take that first step somewhere and we are very proud to be that place in Orange County," the website's promotional wording states.

It's evident the invitational is popular beyond Orange County, too. Some 30 of the nearly 70 schools attending reside in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.

"I woke up at 4 a.m. and we were on the road by 5," says Harvard-Westlake senior Kendra Ross, who was the individual winner of the girls' senior Division 3 race in a time of 19:23.2. 

The format provides ample opportunities for individuals to shine. There are 24 total races with three boys and three girls races per school grade spread out over three divisions and divided by school population. There were double the number of teams placed in Division 3 (32) as Division 1 (15) and Division 2 (19). There were not team or sweepstake races, per se, as several did not have enough to field five-member scoring for senior, junior, sophomore or freshman-specific teams. 

Nonetheless, there were plenty of runners using the Laguna Hills Invitational as an early measuring stick, a launch pad for individual goals and many who felt afterward their performance was a direct result of summer training that for many included team bonding/unique training visits to Mammoth, Big Bear or elsewhere in the state. A number of runners here Saturday are turning right around to compete in another Orange County favorite, the Woodbridge Invitational on Sept. 15-16 at the Great Park in Irvine.

The best times for girls on the three-mile Dempsey course were turned in by Huntington Beach's Makenzie McRae, who won the Division I junior race in 17:22.8, and Laguna Hills' Holly Barker, winner of the Division 3 sophomore race in 17:28.5.

On the boys' side, three runners rose above the rest. Santa Ana Godinez's Jayden Hernandez won the Division 2 junior race in 15:29.7 while both Irvine University's Ansh Parashar and Santa Ana's Jimmy Dominguez ran their respective senior division races in 15:42.7. Parashar won the Division 2 title and Dominguez won Division I.

The only other sub-16 minute performances came from St. Margaret's Everett Capelle, the boys junior Division 3 title winner in 15:53.2 and Santa Ana Foothill's Jack Horrocks, who was runner-up to Hernandez in the junior Division 2 race in 15:56.6.

The remaining individual winners in girls' races: Freshmen -- Joyce Li of St. Margaret's, Division 3, 19:52; Emma Siok of Huntington Beach, Div. 1, 19:23.3; Arielle Avina of Murrieta Valley, Div. 2; Sophomores -- Beaumont's Angie Valenzuela, Div. 1, 19:37; Megan Crum of Temescal Canyon, Div. 2, 18:59.9; Juniors -- Melisse Djomby Enyawe from Corona del Mar, Div. 3, 18:46.5; Kaitlyn Carmichael of University, Div. 2, 18:34.5; Seniors -- Makayla Anderson of Riverside Poly, Div. 1, 18:57.5; and Mira Costa's Anna Chittenden, Div. 2, 18:27.9.  

Other boys winning Laguna Hills Invitational divisional titles: Freshmen -- Mason Nguyen of Tustin, Div. 2, 16:42.6; Kevin Steinman of Corona del Mar, Div. 3, 16:48; Sophomores -- Newport Harbor's Uriel Rosete, Div. 2, 16:29.8; Franklin Wimbish of Harvard-Westlake, Div. 3, 16:55.5; Riverside Poly's Owen Weems, Div. 1, 16:39.4; Juniors -- Huntington Beach's Jacob McQuirk, Div. 1, 16:05.6; Seniors -- Kevin Shen of St. Margaret's, Div. 3, 16:44.4.

For some runners it was their first chance to run the well-constructed course, while for others, like Laguna Hills junior Sydney Johnson, who finished second in her Division 3 race, it was a chance to improve on familiar terrain.

"It's comfortable," she says. "We run these hills every single day and practice here so we're definitely familiar. I love this course. It's a good way to transition into the start of our season."

A few seniors showed their appreciation for the course and one expressed a bit of sorrow knowing that Saturday's race would be their final opportunity to run it as a high school competitor.

"We've been running it for quite a few years so most of us know the course. We'll occasionally just come down here to do some hill practice," says Parashar, who at least leaves with a first-place medal in his farewell Laguna Hills meet. "It feels a little sad. If I'm running in college next year, I will be looking back on this course and remembering the times I've run it and having my family here."

Again, it may be early in the season, but those competing in the Laguna Hills Invitational left it feeling rewarded.

Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

Photos by Raymond Tran