RECAP Favorites Prevail at CIF-San Diego Section Finals

La Jolla freshman Chiara Dailey ran the day's second-fastest time in winning the Division 4 title. 

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SAN DIEGO -- Running the CIF-San Diego Section championships a week early certainly didn't seem to bother anyone as the meet, held over Morley Field's hilly 3-mile course went pretty much as expected on Saturday.

As was the case last year, it's looking more and more like Division 5 will be section's best hopes for state titles Thanksgiving weekend in Fresno.

Francis Parker's Kenan Pala and Santa Fe Christian's Revere Schmidt swept the two small-school titles in 2021 and at least on the boys' front, Liberty Charter's Micah Sanchez will certainly be one to watch as he rolled to victory.

"I was hoping to break 15 minutes," said Sanchez, who a week ago went 15:01 at Liberty Station, but posted a winning time of 15:08.6 after being pushed most of the way by unsung Parker junior York Bourgeois, who was second in 15:16.3.

"I took it out at the mile and going up the hill but York was still on me," Sanchez said. "I heard that I had a two-second lead at the two-mile and while I would like to have pulled away sooner, I finally did it. I also saw how my teammates were and that was a good feeling."

That's because his Lion teammates were running well behind him and ended up delivering the school's first boys team title, scoring just 48 points -- 44 less than Parker and Calvin Christian.

Here is a look at the five boys divisions:

Boys Recap

Division 1

As expected, Torrey Pines' Ryan Thomas and El Camino's Omar Reyes battled step for step until late in the race Thomas uncorked his 1:52.34 speed to win in 15:08.9, just three tenths of second behind Sanchez for the day's fastest time.  

"I pushed the downhills but Omar is an amazing racer," said Thomas. "When we got to the dirt loop (an old casting pond) I used my 800 speed. I'm not really built for hills like Mt. SAC (he's 6-foot tall) but I'm looking for something like a top five finish at State."

Thomas also watched as his Falcons teammates placed all five scoring runners in the top 20 to capture the team title with 56 points over North County rival Westview's 77.  Only two teams move on from this division.

Division 2

Mt. Carmel's Tom Bell was the defending champion here and once again he proved unbeatable as he pulled away from Grossmont's Russell Blakely to win by seven seconds in 15:23.1.

"I'm real excited to squeeze out the victory," said the Sundevil senior. "The first mile was slow, not under five minutes. When I got to the top of the hill, I decided to push it because that's where some runners relax.

"I kept my eyes focused on my competition.  I'm excited about State because Woodward Park is the perfect balance of hills and flats-that's the best combination."

Blakeley's teammate, Ian Rosen, placed fourth in 15:45.3 as the Foothillers edged Grossmont Conference rival Steele Canyon 45-50 landing four runners among the top eight. However, it was more than a minute before Grossmont's No. 5 finished.

Division 3

Another defending champion, La Costa Canyon's Jacob Niednagel, stepped up big to outrun University City's Gael McClain-Martinez by 10 seconds at 15:23.3.  Something there is about competing in the championship with Bill Vice, the ex-LCC coach, there to watch.

It happened just as it did a year ago when Niednagel gave his coach a great retirement send-off.

"I was thinking, 'I'm this close, I can do it,' " said Niednagel. "When I crossed the street (with about 300 meters remaining) I heard my mom yell, 'Go!' So I said to myself, I'm just going to go. I never looked back."

Sage Creek, a Division 4 power on the girls side the last three years, won the team title with 67 points.

Division 4

This was expected to be a wide-open division with Classical Academy and La Jolla battling it out for the top two spots. Instead Crawford got quality runs from its first five runners to upset the others with 86 points.

Individually, High Tech junior Kai Lange-Dei cruised to the victory in 16:10.9, 14 seconds in front of La Jolla's Isaac Chu.

"I didn't think a big move early was smart," said the junior, "but I just picked it up gradually. We had runners like (Sage Creek's) Bryce Gilmore and (High Tech High San Diego's) Nate Osborn a year ago, so it was hard to imagine winning. Not this time."

Girls Recap

Division 1

With all the big-name runners in this race, Del Norte's Hannah Riggins proved the best of the group, pulling away late  to win in 17:23.6 as the cool morning suddenly became an uncomfortably warm 80-degree day.

"I wanted something in the low 17s but I wasn't going for time," said Riggins, who wore one orange shoe and another black one to let everyone know she had signed with Princeton earlier in the week. "On the dog loop I fell back a little but I was still focused on the pack.

"Tessa (Buswell) put a surge on and since she's a sub-2:10 half-miler, you never want to be neck and neck with her at the end. As for Princeton, I'm very excited -- it has everything I want."

Riggins beat Buswell by six seconds with Eastlake freshman Jaelyn Williams finishing hard for third at 17:30.5, in front of Del Norte sophomore Emily Russo (18:00.4), Westview's Kaitlyn Arciaga (18:10.4) and Torrey Pines' Scarlett Taylor (18:16.1).

Del Norte edged Torrey Pines, 54-67, for the team title.

Division 2

Mt. Carmel's Breea Selbrede is a 5:02 miler, yet she hasn't broken the tape in a section championship-until Saturday.  Selbrede, a senior, ran 18:41.1 and left Vista's Melissa Estrada (18:56.7) in her wake.

"I wanted it," said the senior. "I trust my coaches and they prepared me well. I made my move with 600 meters left."

Another San Diego City school, Scripps Ranch, placed three runners in the top 10 and had plenty of depth to win the team title with 52 points over Mt. Carmel's 62.

Division 3

La Costa Canyon's Gioana Lopizzo, by way of Switzerland, bolted into the lead right from the start and had one of the most impressive wins, topping teammate Sophia Biesinger by 51 seconds in 17:12.7, the fastest time of the day.

"I was looking to run the same time as the La Jolla girl (Chiara Dailey's 17:14.6)," said Lopizzo. "I didn't want to run slowly because I wanted to get into a rhythm. The thing I like about cross country is the team, it's like one big family. It's hard to run when no one is close but I know in the moment how I want to run."

Lopizzo's LCC teammates placed a state-qualifying third behind Cathedral Catholic's 43 points and University City's 58 with 68 of their own. Sage Creek also qualified for state with 83 points.

Division 4

Dailey scorched the course early in the day at 17:14.6, well in front of teammate Kirra Fisk (18:13.1) and Clairemont's Alexis Noble (18:57.5). The freshman took off at the gun and never looked back.

"I wanted to break 17 minutes," said Dailey of the quick start. "Yes, I want to win state but for sure finish in the top three. I like sports I'm good at, where I can win, and running cross country does that.  It's a good team sport."

La Jolla's 23 points came when Daphne Mayer was fourth and Scarlett Slagter fifth with junior Abigail Plezia's 11th rounding out the Vikings scorers.

Division 5

Everyone knew this would be a wide-open race once Santa Fe Christian's Revere Schmidt, the defending section and State Meet champion, withdrew because of a leg injury. With only three runners healthy for the race, any chance that Schmidt would emerge in Fresno was erased.

Ayanna Hickey of the Bishop's School beat another 9th-grader Navah Lipsky of Francis Parker, clocking an 18:43.7 for the victory.

"I was looking for something under 18:40 and after the hill I went to work," said Hickey of her win over her Coastal League foe. "As I neared the finish I heard my coach yelling that they were gaining, but I think he was just trying to get me to run faster. I missed the last two weeks with a strained hamstring but now it feels fine."

Parker won the team title with a 42-89 edge over Pacific Ridge. They are the only two teams to advance to the state meet.


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