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AGOURA HILLS -- It was the rarest of sights, for those fortunate enough to witness it. The nation's top-ranked high school boys cross country team emerged from weeks of intensive training to show what the hard work is all about, as well as give a taste of what's to come.
Newbury Park's boys cross country team, racing at full strength for the first time since Oct. 8 and for only the third time this season, took the top six spots at the Marmonte League Finals on a somewhat confusing multi-surface 3-mile course on Thursday at Agoura High School.
Stanford-bound twins, Leo Young and Lex Young, and fellow senior Aaron Sahlman took the top three spots in what what supposed to be a three-way tie but Westlake Timing official clockings revealed a single champion.
Nontheless, the objective here was much bigger than the individual for Coach Tanya Brosnan's Panthers, who have big goals in their sights over the next month.
"For us it feels like it's just getting started," Lex Young said long after the end of Thursday's race and cooldown. "The way our team likes to run, our season really is post-season."
The boys cross country team at Newbury Park has been the gold standard in the country dating to the pre-pandemic fall of 2019. Following the unfortunate shutdown, the Panthers boys were right back on top again last fall, culminating as close to a perfect season as one could image on the pages of fiction, with jaw-dropping performance after jaw-dropping performance. From a 1-6 perfect display of domination at the CIF-Southern Section Finals on a Mt. SAC course they loathe, to a 1-4 and 6 16-point historic run at the CIF-State Championships at iconic Woodward Park, to the fast track in Huntsville, Alabama and a 1-3 and 5 29-point exclamation point at the Garmin Running Lane National Championships.
Despite the graduation of two key seniors -- including national runner of the year Colin Sahlman -- and the departure of head coach Sean Brosnan to UCLA, anticipation and excitement toward what's next for these Panthers remained at a fever pitch.
But -- BUT -- Thursday's run over the maze of a layout on the campus of Agoura High was just the third race of the season for the full Newbury Park boys lineup.
Just. The. Third.
On November 3!
This for a group that famously trains all summer in the high altitude of Big Bear. And this for a team that, including Thursday's romp, is now scheduled to race five weeks in a row through CIF section prelims and finals at Mt. SAC, CIF-State on the iconic Woodward Park course, and nationals in the almost certain wet and cold of the Pacific Northwest.
That national final race is exactly one month from Thursday's league finals race.
"The season really starts in November," Leo Young said late in the chill of the evening long after everyone but campus workers remained at Agoura High.
Said Lex: "A lot of behind the scenes. A lot goes into these efforts and what we're doing. We devote ourselves, we work pretty hard, and now is the time we get to start reaping those benefits."
Said Leo: "It's all about commitment and patience."
Leo, Lex, and fellow seniors Aaron Sahlman and Brayden Seymour were the first four across the line at the end of the 3-mile race on Thursday, with junior Dev Doshi and senior Aaron Cantu also crossing before the first non-Newbury Park runner -- Westlake senior KC Barber -- hit the finish line.
"As a team, we executed the plan, which was to get a perfect score and sweep the meet," said Seymour, the summer transfer from Florida headed to Furman, who appears to be a consistent high-end fourth stick for the Panthers.
The boys took off fast.
"4:36 -- a little faster than expected but it felt pretty easy," Sahlman said.
There were a couple points where they said they were mis-directed on the course and it cost them what Sahlman estimated to be around seven seconds.
When you're so far out in front, what's a few extra U-turns?
When they came back onto the track for a final 300-meter loop to the finish, the Youngs and Sahlman, a few strides in front of Seymour, planned for the lead trio to all cross at the same time. But at the end, Leo squeezed in front late at the narrow finish to hit the line in 14:50.87 with Lex and Aaron clocking in at 14:51.08.
Seymour was next in 14:55.66, Doshi at 15:15.59, and Cantu at 15:20.60.
Seymour said he raced much more while attending school in Florida than he has so far at Newbury Park.
"It's definitely been difficult, but I wouldn't say I hate it," he said. "It's nice having your body not hurting every week.
"It was awesome to come out here and not feel necessarily the exact pain of a race and just feel that effort. I'm glad to be back to that. The next coming weeks it's just going to be doing that over and over and over. I'm excited to get back to that."
Said Lex: "Everyone did what we wanted to today. We're looking like we're in a good spot. I'm really proud of the team so far."
The competition in the Varsity Girls race was at the team level. Stellar Oaks Christian junior Payton Godsey took the individual title almost from the gun and won by more than 50 seconds, crossing in 16:43.07.
Godsey placed second at Woodbridge in mid-September and then said illness undermined her effort at Clovis. This was her first competition since.
"(This) launches the post-season. I was looking to get the ball rolling a little bit," she said. "I got a little excited the first lap, especially with it being on the track. Once I'm in the lead, I just kind of took it from there. No going back."
In contrast, the team competition between Newbury Park and Oaks Christian came right down to the end.
Senior Ailish Hawkins and sophomore Tiffany Sax, crossed together for second place in 17:33.27 to lead Newbury Park's 26-30 victory. Freshman Sophia Grant (5th, 18:06.08), junior Danielle Brotcke (7th, 18:19.08), and junior Nora Lehto (9th, 18:45.95) also scored for the Panthers.
Newbury Park won five of the six races, missing out on the full sweep by six points to Westlake in JV Girls. Newbury Park junior Elyse Grant was the individual winner (19:01.29), sophomore teammate Sofia Granillo won the FS Girls race (20:53.36). On the boys side, freshman Micah Dickran won the FS race (16:02.65), and junior Nathaniel Schohn won the JV race (15:56.59) as part of a 16-point performance.
"That's what we came in hoping to do," Hawkins said about the overall program success at the meet. "It's definitely cool. The team is working together. You have to win because you know your other teammates won."
Jeffrey Parenti is the California MileSplit State Editor