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On a day with near perfect conditions, the Mt. San Antonio College course provided the landscape for the Southern Section to crown champions in all five divisions! With seven teams slated to advance to the California State Championships, here is a breakdown of each race.
DIVISION 1The upstart Rancho Cucamonga squad, which had never qualified to the State Meet, came in as the favorite but midway through, it became apparent that they would have a dog fight on their hands. With one of the Cougars' fighting injuries, it opened the door for Great Oak, a squad that had captured nine straight titles from 2012 to 2019.
But, Great Oak was not alone as Santiago, who had only qualified for the State Meet for the first year in 2021, came through the mile mark in the lead. Great Oak carved into that lead, emerging with a slim four-point advantage. Over the last mile, the Wolfpack held off a fast-charging Santiago squad to capture an unprecedented 11th title since 2009!
Elevating into one of the top all-around programs in the Southern Section the past several seasons, Santiago had one of the 'step-up' team performances on the day and shattered all previous school records in their runner-up place.
With Great Oak scoring 76, to Santiago 81, Rancho Cucamonga placed third at 88 to make this the tightest team battle on the girls' side.
Trabuco Hills placed fourth to return back to the State Meet for the first time since 2013. Having to overcome injuries all throughout the season, Long Beach Poly prevailedin grand fashion over the last mile of the course in placing fifth. They were ninth at the two-mile mark, and advance to the State Meet for the first time since 2015.
Along with Rancho Cucamonga, Santa Monica and Quartz Hill claimed those last two spots to advance to next weekend for the first time in school history! One of the biggest surprises on the day, Quartz Hill had not been ranked in the top ten at any point in the season and went into the postseason as the division's #14 seed.
Individually, Great Oak senior Kelli Gaffney took control of the race at the top of the Switchbacks and never looked back. She won the Team Sweepstakes at the Mt. SAC Invite last month in 17:33, and despite a late race charge from Santa Monica sophomore Phoebe Benun, charged home for the 17:29.1 lifetime best title!
While in her first year in the sport and putting soccer aside, Benun almost pulled off one of the upsets of the meet with her 17:34.6 effort. Meanwhile, another step-up performance was Santiago sophomore Rylee Blade placing third in 17:45.6 as she came back from an injury-riddled Track season to showcase her talent this Fall!
Almost a minute faster than what she ran at the Mt. SAC Invitational last month, Santa Ana's Sarahy Lopez placed fourth (17:48.3) while Redondo Union's Lyla Fedio (17:51.3) also earned an individual invite to the State Meet with her fifth-place finish.
State Meet Qualifiers
DIVISION 2Favored to capture their third straight team title, Newbury Park held true to form and ran away with the 70-125 over second-ranked Ventura. The Panthers earned the Division 1 title in 2021 while previously earned the championship in 2019 here in Division 2.
After placing third in 2021, Ventura sophomore Sadie Engelhardt added an individual title to her ever-growing resume with a 17:12.8 effort. But, it was teammate freshman Aelo Curtis that impressed with her third-place effort (17:40.4).
Advancing onto the State Meet for a seventh-straight season (and 13 of the last 15), Mira Costa was charged up front by Anna Chittenden, who placed second overall (17:25.3) with an impressive second half of the race.
Putting behind a frustrating season full of injuries and setbacks, one of the surprises here was the fourth-place finish from Canyon of Anaheim Hills. With Taylor DeBarros leading the team effort, they moved up from sixth with less than a mile to out-lean Claremont by one point! Denise Chen's seventh-place effort (17:55.9) led Claremont to their ninth-straight State Meet appearance while this will be the seventh consecutive appearance for Canyon.
Making their way up to Fresno for their first-ever trip to the State Meet, Citrus Valley held on to place sixth, just ahead of El Toro who has a reserved spot at Woodward Park next weekend for the sixth straight postseason.
Individually, there was never a doubt that Engelhardt would take control, especially in light of her 16:39 monster performance from last week's prelims. Admittingly, she had been fighting illness throughout the week and was not 100%. Her teammate, Curtis moved up well, motoring down the switchbacks to put herself in second place going into Poop Out.
But, Mira Costa's Chittenden and her experience ran her down to also close in well on Engelhardt over the last mile. With an eight-place effort, JW North's Mackenzie Browne makes her way back to the State Meet, as she was the Division 2 champion as a freshman in 2019.
It is rare that two runners from a non-qualifying team advance to the State Meet as a duo. But, for the first time in divisional history - it happened to TWO schools!
Portola's Jadyn Zdanavage advanced for the third time with her fourth-place effort (17:44.9) while teammate Sophie Guilfoile also will join her. Meanwhile, for the second time in school history for Peninsula, they too will send two individuals with Makenzie Kordic (ninth-place, 18:04.8) and Aishling Callanan (tenth-place, 18:19.2) both advancing.
State Meet Qualifiers
DIVISION 3Moving into the division for the first time in school history, Dana Hills came in as a heavy favorite and lived up to the billing! After placing fourth in Division 2 in 2021, they earned their first team title since 2008 with Allura Markow taking control once she hit the Switchbacks, running away with the individual title (17:31.4). Annie Ivarsson (fifth-place, 18:17.1) provided ample support while Zoe Ott and Cooper Murphy, placing 14th and 15th to pace the Dolphins to a commanding, 52-110 victory.
South Torrance, led by the duo of Chloe Esponda (10th place) and Karissa Kira (12th place), had been ranked second all season long and like Dana Hills, held true to form for their highest finish in the program's history. This is the Spartan's fifth consecutive trip to the State Meet.
But, after that - we witnessed several surprises!
As of a month ago, the girls of Moorpark were not ranked in the top ten, but along with the boys, they were arguably the best program in regard to moving up the charts this past month! Despite not having anybody in the top 25, the impressive 51-second scoring gap elevated the Musketeers as they placed third for the fourth time in the past eight postseasons.
Corona del Mar returns back to the State Meet for the first time since 2017, led up front by the runner-up performance of Melisse Djomby-Enyawe who closed well over the last mile for her 17:38.8 effort.
With their third State Meet appearance in the past four postseasons, Yorba Linda placed fifth with Sydney Rome leading the team effort with her fourth-place effort (18:03.2). As a team, they moved up well over the last mile to move up from seventh place.
Arguably, the step-up performance of the entire (right up there with Quartz Hill's girls in Div. 1), Shadow Hills went into the postseason as the #14 seed and motivated by Marjourie Lopez's fourth-place finish (17:57.4), not only did they advance to their first divisional finals berth but they will not add 'State Meet Qualifier' to their resume in placing sixth.
Meanwhile, West Torrance held on to claim that seventh spot, despite not having any individuals in the top 40 as their 39-second scoring gap prevailed. They return to the State Meet for the first time since 2018.
Advancing as an individual, West Covina freshman Becky Osorio (18:25.0) placed sixth while Citrus Hill advances their first individual to the State Meet in school history with Abygail Villareal (18:29.9) taking eighth.
As we mentioned with the rarity of two runners advancing as individuals from the same school, we witnessed here again. Santa Margarita's Sophie Polay (seventh place, 18:28.3) and Alahna Thomas (ninth place, 18:31.5) both book their tickets to Fresno for next weekend.
Don Lugo's Aariana Amezcua finished 11th to claim that last ticket as an individual to next weekend.
State Meet Qualifiers
DIVISION 4Since the preseason, we have been highlighting how talented the girls in Division 4 were. Well, they certainly lived up to those headlines, boasting seven of the top 16 teams in the overall merge, including five of the top ten! In addition, the top three teams all beat the previous team time record for Division 4.
It was fitting that we kicked off the action in the morning with this group!
Defending champions and top-ranked in the Southern Section overall, J Serra packed up well with all five in the top 20, taking care of business against a stellar field! With a scorching last 1000 meters, freshman Summer Wilson led the campaign with her fourth place (17:47.0), passing teammate Brynn Garcia (seventh place, 17:53.0) in the gauntlet. Kaylah Tasser (11th place, 18:14.5), Georgia Jeanneret (19th place, 18:41.3), and Anastasia Snodgrass (20th place, 18:45.7) closed out the scoring for the fastest team time on the day of 91:22.
Oaks Christian and La Canada have been interchangeable all season and only three points (101-104) separated the two with the Lions prevailing on this occasion. Payton Godsey set the pace early on and ran away to defend her individual title from a year ago. Her 16:54.2 performance was the fastest time on the day, leading her squad to the runner-up plaque and sixth in the overall merge. Sarah Colebrooke's ninth-place effort (18:05.3) also paced the Lions.
La Canada's Maya DeBrouwer moved up from 17th a year ago to place second to run the second fastest time of the day in her 17:09.8 runner-up performance. The sophomore (also a successful cyclist in the Spring) ran 18:49.8 a year ago! Charlotte Hopkins (13th place, 18:19.9) moved up well over the last mile to help lead her squad to seventh in the overall merge on the day.
After three straight titles in Division 3, Palos Verdes complimented the most talented division well in placing a close fourth with 109 points! Natalie Wang (14th place, 18:22.5) and the rest of her crew proved that perhaps, their Bay League title was not an 'upset' after all as the Sea Kings are back on the line in Fresno next weekend for the 15th consecutive season - the longest of any girls' team in the Southern Section!
Bishop Amat, paced up front by Emma Arredondo (fifth place, 17:48.8) and Sophia Ebiner (sixth place, 17:50.9), advanced for the second year in a row while Harvard Westlake placed seventh, with Kendra Ross (18:31.8) leading the way for the Wolverines.
Individually, Laguna Hills sophomore Holly Barker placed third (17:20.4) for the second year in a row while Beverly Hills' senior Danielle Hollander crossed in eighth (18:01.6) to advance as an individual for the second year in a row.
In a division so driven for the top teams, Covina's Miranda Palacios (18:35.9) advanced as well, despite crossing in 17th place while Eve Washburn of Burroughs, Ridgecrest placed 18th (18:36.6) as the last to individually advance.
State Meet Qualifiers
DIVISION 5Viewpoint came in as a slight favorite to earn their program's first-ever title. But, the Patriots took over mid-race and never looked back as JiaLian Mackey placed second (18:12.3) and Micah Gutman crossed in sixth place (18:44.9) to provide a nice head start. Third place in 2021, they advance to their third State Meet appearance in the five postseasons.
Xavier College Prep had been ranked fourth every week this season but stepped up to the plate to earn the runner-up plaque for their top finish in the past five years (that all yielded State Meet appearances). One of the surprises on the day was freshman Chloe Elbaz running to the divisional title as she passed Mackey with 600 meters for a 17:57.4 performance!
Cate also stepped up with a third-place performance, matching that same finish from 2019. Kendall Thorne (13th place, 19:50.5) shined for the Rams.
A consistent mainstay in the Division 5 scene, St. Margaret's advanced to the State Meet for the sixth year in a row in taking fourth place. Joyce Li brought home a fifth-place finish (18:29.0).
St. Lucy's advanced back to the State Meet for the first time since 2008, as the group definitely welcomed the move to Division 5 last month! Alexis Corvese placed eighth (19:01.0).
Providence of Burbank will advance to the State Meet for the first time with their sixth-place finish. Midrace, Aubrey Eaton placed fourth overall (18:27.3) while defending champions, Linfield Christian snagged that last spot to advance to Fresno once again.
Lorelei Barrett of Buckley has a date next weekend up in Fresno in placing third overall (18:26.0). Nicole Samson of Webb (ninth place) will join her while Jazmin Zambrano improved from 13th a year ago to also advance. Esther Cronk of Southlands Christian will be the first in her school's history to qualify while Malibu's Tallula Murphree earned her ticket for the second year in a row.
State Meet Qualifiers
Mark Gardner is the Southern Section Editor for MileSplit
Photo by Raymond Tran
Interviews by Ryan Blystone, Jeffrey Parenti and Edgar Salazar