In one of the premier regional meets on the calendar, the Orange County Championships kicks off this Friday afternoon at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado. A newly redesigned course awaits the very best the county has to offer.
Unlike last weekend, where many of the top squads had to endure the heat at the Clovis Invite, the conditions are projected to be in the high 60s and low 70s throughout both days this weekend.
Schools competing in Divisions 3, 4, and 5 will compete on Friday afternoon, except for those top-ranked varsity squads that have opted to compete in Saturday's Sweepstakes Races. Speaking of which, those elite races will take place, beginning with the boys at 8:55 am and the girls taking off at 9:15 am. The full event race schedule is below.
The nationally ranked JSerra group out of Capistrano Valley headlines as the main attraction. Ranked on top of state rankings for Division IV, the squad has been looking to solidify itself as one of the best in Orange County history. Sophomore Brynn Garcia has been the catalyst up front while freshmen Summer Wilson and Kaylah Tasser have been valuable for the JSerra machine. They aim to capture their first county team title after placing second to Canyon of Anaheim Hills by only one point in 2021.
With J Serra serving notice as the heavy favorite, the team battle should be for second place. The top-ranked squad in Division 3 in the Southern Section, senior Allura Markow, who placed third here a year ago, will pace the Dolphins. But for the second week in a row, Dana Hills will run a limited roster to allow their full squad to focus on the postseason.
Three squads looking to punch their tickets to the California State Meet in November, Trabuco Hills, Huntington Beach, and El Toro will square off. Trabuco Hills is one of the most improved squads in the Southern Section as Danica Brinkman has led the way for the Mustangs. Meanwhile, coming off their first State Meet appearance in 2021, Makenzie McRae pilots her Huntington Beach crew. With El Toro, you will see a pack-scoring approach prevail where they have Carly Miller and Dakota Danaher finish as the Chargers' top scorers on multiple occasions this season.
Individually, Laguna Hills sophomore Holly Barker was the wire-to-wire winner a year ago, dominating a solid field to a 34-second victory. Barker has raced sparingly this season but did shine with a 17:23 performance on the tough Laguna Hills course a month ago. Note that on the same day, in a separate race, Huntington Beach's McRae ran almost an identical time as both performances as two of the most impressive in the section this season.
Also, one to watch is the two-time State Meet qualifier, Jadyn Zdanavage (Portola) has been consistent and about 20 seconds faster on the same courses that she navigated in 2021. Santa Margarita soph Sophie Polay, coming off a monster 17:35 performance at Clovis last weekend, will rest this weekend.
The newly minted top squad for Division I in California, San Clemente, comes in as the favorite to take home the title. Coming off a 15:11 performance at the Clovis Invite, Juan Chantaca is the main headliner for the Tritons. But the squad behind him has made the difference in developing into a squad, now in the conversation for a national ranking. Brett Ephraim and Rory Catsimanes have moved up to be among the best in the county this past month.
With Santa Margarita resting their varsity squad to focus on next weekend's Mt. SAC Invite, Dana Hills and Trabuco Hills are next in line to fight for that runner-up team trophy. Sophomore Evan Noonan is one of the most improved sophomores in CA and leads the way for the Dolphins. Juniors Garrett Woodruff and Mike Ayala have also developed well to move Dana Hills into the hunt for the Division III title at State next month.
Meanwhile, Trabuco Hills is one of the youngest squads in the Southern Section projected to make the State Meet five weeks from now. With only one senior in their top seven, sophomore Carsten Williams has led his team this season. Fellow sophomore Dylan Jubak, along with juniors Eli Griggs and Ryan Stanley, has transformed the Mustangs into one of the top squads in the section.
Tesoro and El Toro are also in the State Meet conversation for Division II. Tesoro looks to rebound from a frustrating showing at Clovis last weekend. Projected to finish in the top five, sophomore Griffin Kushen leads Tesoro with Casey Goetschel scoring second for the Titans in every meet this season. Meanwhile, El Toro's Garrett Hartline will lead the Chargers, while also competing for the individual title.
Individually, Godinez's Jayden Hernandez has been on a roll during his breakout junior campaign. His invitational victories at both Laguna Hills and Dana Hills elevated him up the individual rankings for the Southern Section but the one that comes in as the favorite is Newport Harbor's, Kenny Wanlass. The senior posted the fastest time of any Orange County boy (14:22.9) at the Woodbridge Invite while he held off the rising temperatures with a 15:49.4 effort at Clovis last weekend.
Photos by DeAnna Turner and Jeffrey Parenti
Mark Gardner is a teacher, announcer, former coach and a regular contributor to MileSplit