PREVIEW Healthy Cathedral Catholic Set for San Diego Finals

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SAN DIEGO -- When Cathedral Catholic High cross country coach Dan Geiger was asked his girls' team's goals for 2022 back in August, he gave a two-word answer.

"Stay healthy."

In a nutshell he answered what made 2021 a roller-coaster ride that simply went off the tracks at the finish.

Oh, there were highlights -- the Cathedral Catholic girls had a dominant Mt. SAC Invitational and they easily won the section title, although even then Geiger knew it would take a miracle to live up to the Dons' No. 1 state ranking in Division III.

But at the section finals, fully half the team was suffering from a debilitating flu so that a week later, at the CIF-State Meet, Cathedral Catholic had a half a team that was just starting to recover and another half a squad that had a cough, running nose and difficulty breathing.

Not recommended conditions while running against anyone, much less the best teams in California.

A third place finish and trip to the awards ceremony ended up being a highlight because Geiger, who himself was wearing a boot on his injured foot, knew it might have been the most courageous race of the season.

Heading into this Saturday's CIF-San Diego Section Championships at Morley Field in Balboa Park, the Dons have already gone through another case of the flu, but this one only lasted a few days and wasn't nearly as debilitating as a year before.

The Dons girls have bounced between No. 1 and No. 2 in the San Diego Section coaches poll all season and they were again impressive in winning one of the state's toughest leagues, the City Western, where they low-scored their opponents with just 21 points, going 1-2-5-6-7.

That might be the biggest difference, if Cathedral Catholic can get through unscathed to the State Meet. This year they have a powerful 1-2 punch as well as depth.

Asked about the team's health earlier his week, Geiger said, "As of today, we're healthy."

Below is a division-by-division preview the San Diego Section Cross Country Championships

Race Schedule
D4 Girls - 8:30 am
D5 Girls - 9:05 am
D4 Boys - 9:40 am
D5 Boys - 10:10 am
D1 Girls - 10:40 am
D2 Boys - 11:10 am
D3 Girls - 11:40 am
D1 Boys - 12:15 pm
D2 Girls - 12:45 pm
D3 Boys - 1:20 pm

Team Auto-Qualifying by State-Meet Division


 Division 1

Solid programs like Torrey Pines, Westview, Poway and Canyon Crest were stunned by Otay Ranch last year and while the Mustangs won their league title, they still don't figure to bump the big four from the North County this time around. Torrey Pines, with Ryan Thomas' third place finish leading the way, scored just 28 points going 3-4-5-6-10 in the North County Coastal finals. Only two teams move on to State because the next Division I boys team State champion from San Diego will be the first. Individually, look for El Camino junior Omar Reyes, the star of the Mt. SAC Invitational, to set a blistering pace.

Division 2

Grossmont started the season highly rated but suffered a malady that seems to be affecting a lot of San Diego teams -- no serious contending No. 5 runner.  In the Grossmont Conference finals, the Foothillers went 1-2-4-7 with Ian Rosen (15:30) and Russell Blakely (15:37) leading the way. Loan Reyes, a sophomore, has improved a ton and with a big race could make this easy for Grossmont.  As it is, the Foothillers soundly topped No. 2 Steele Canyon 33-51. San Dieguito Academy was impressive in the Avocado League finals, running as a pack to finish 3-4-5-6-7 with just 15 seconds between their No. 1 and No. 5 and beating a strong Vista team. Defending individual champion Tom Bell of Mt. Carmel is looking for two in a row.

Division 3

Sage Creek started last week as the No. 1 team in this division but had to race D1 Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest Academy in the North County Coastal League.  As a result, the Bobcats placed third and is another of those teams looking for someone to make a big step up this week. Sage Creek finished 11-12-13-14 with seven seconds between No. 1 and No. 4. In this division those four should be higher, and that 14-second gap to No. 5 won't have as many individuals. University City, with Caden Hicks and  Gael McClain-Martinez leading the way, won the Western League and La Costa Canyon, with 2021 individual titlist Jacob Niednagel set to defend, should also challenge. St. Augustine won the Eastern League but lack of depth will hurt the Saints. Don't be surprised if Point Loma's Manuel Correia is right there at the finish line after winning the Western League. St. Augustine's Jimmy Markowicz impressively won the Eastern League in 16:16.47 for 3.11 miles and Sage Creek's Aidan O'Toole should be right there, too.

Division 4

The question here is if Classical Academy's impressive performance against lesser teams will hold up against the likes of La Jolla which struggled against Division 3 teams St. Augustine and D-1 San Diego in the Eastern League.  Classical won the small school Coastal League going 5-7-12 but a dropoff to 20 and 22 could be a problem.  Depth, or the lack thereof in this division, isn't shocking so La Jolla going 6-7-13-24-25 against stronger programs shouldn't be as big a problem running against schools with similar enrollment. High Tech High San Diego's Kai Lange-Dei is one to watch in this division after his second place in the Eastern League.

 Division 5

A year ago, Francis Parker's Kenan Pala, who went on to win State, was the prohibitive favorite. This year, Liberty Charter's Micah Sanchez is in a very similar spot having fared well against everyone and basically using the Frontier League championship race for a training run, winning by almost two minutes. His school is looking for its first section title after going 1-2-3-9-12 but that 12th place was three minutes behind Sanchez and that will be a lot of runners in this meet. Parker's York Bourgeois won the Coastal League by 40 seconds as the Lancers join Maranatha Christian in looking to capture the team title or at a minimum earn one of the three state berths.




Division 1

With most of the section's stronger teams, excepting Cathedral Catholic, in this division, the team race should be dramatic with only the top two advancing. Torrey Pines was impressive winning the North County Coastal League with 37 points after going 5-6-7-9-10 (and 11 if you're looking for depth). Marissa Gaut is the front-runner for the Falcons. Other teams like Del Norte, which not only had the Palomar League champ in senior Hannah Riggins (headed to Princeton) but went 1-4-5-7-10 and actually moved into the No. 1 spot in the coaches' poll, balanced Canyon Crest Academy and top-heavy El Camino, Westview and Poway, should make this a fun race. Individually, Riggins, Westview's Kaitlyn Arciaga and Poway's Tessa Buswell had a torrid league race. El Camino's McCall Dame is the top returnee after placing second a year ago. Looking for a surprise? Eastlake freshman Jaelyn Williams won the Metro Conference by 40 seconds, breaking 15 minutes over 2.5 miles at Rohr Park

Division 2

Scripps Ranch had the misfortune of racing against D-3 Cathedral Catholic and University City in the Western League finals, placing a distant third with 87 points. Then again, challengers like Mt. Carmel also got caught up in red-hot league races. So, it's hard to tell what an eye-opening 3-4-5-6-7 by San Dieguito in the Avocado League, with a 13-second gap between their first and fifth runner, will equate to. That would be an  impressive a performance should they match it Saturday. The answer is if they run that well, it will be difficult for anyone to stop the Mustangs. Scripps Ranch is deep-they went 11-12-13 in the Eastern League but the gap between the Falcons No. 3 and 5 is a whopping 42 seconds. That will have to improve. Steele Canyon is looking to bounce back from losing to El Capitan by one point, 37-38, in the Grossmont Conference. Individually, Poway moving up makes this a wide-open race unless Scripps Ranch's Michaela Martin can repeat her sixth place finish of a year ago.  Right behind Martin was Vista's Melissa Estrada who looked very strong winning this year's  Avocado League title in 19:53.3.

Division 3

How strong is this division? Good enough to earn four team state berths and the section will be well-represented. Cathedral Catholic is the prohibitive team favorite here as the Dons try to set up a truly special run at state. Although Alexandria Pena was impressive winning the Western League with an 18:14.62 to beat teammate Scarlett Martin, who ran 18:29.78, the truth is neither one is favored to break the finish tape, an honor La Costa Canyon junior Gioana Lopizzo has earned, especially after winning the North County Coastal title in 18:09.0, second only to Riggins on the same course. Teammate Sophia Biesinger gives LCC a quality 1-2 punch but they aren't the only ones. University City counters with Winter Moritz and Jenna O'Beirne as the Centurions scored just 44 points behind Cathedral Catholic. Sage Creek always seems to come up big in this meet, so don't be surprised if the Bobcats challenge for one of those four spots along with Amber Chase-led El Capitan.

Division 4

There are two very good freshmen in this meet, Williams at Eastlake (see Division I) and La Jolla's Chiara Dailey, who captured the Eastern League title clocking an 18:26.46 over the Morley Field 3.11-mile course. She beat junior teammate Kirra Fisk (18:33.65) as the Vikings placed all five scorers in the top nine to score 22 points. Behind the Vikings, it's a wide-open chase now that Sage Creek has departed for Division 3 but look for always steady Clairemont and the fast-rising Classical Academy program to make some noise.

Division 5

Much like the boys, the Division 5 had an ultra-prohibitive favorite in defending SDS and CIF-State champion Revere Schmidt of Santa Fe Christian, who won this race by 12 seconds a year ago. But Schmidt revealed on Monday that she would not compete in the section meet, citing a leg injury. The recent Claremont-McKenna University commit also is a competitive swimmer and budding triathlete. By missing the section final, unless her team advances, Schmidt will not have an opportunity to defend here State D-V title. The new front-runner favorites are a pair of Pacific Ridge veterans, Elsa Steers and Clara Steers, who went 1-2 in the Coastal League championships. Look for Francis Parker's Ariella Llorens to pull her team, which placed four runners in the top eight, to a second straight section team title with always-tough Bishop's, Pacific Ridge and El Cajon Christian also pushing for state berths. Brooke Gibson of High Tech High North County won the Frontier League with Liberty Charter's team coming out on top.

Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

Photos by Stacy Soriano, Phil Grooms, and James Huenink.