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DIVISION I PREVIEW
Team Time - Great Oak (SS) 89:13 (2015)
Individual - Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley-SS) 16:40 (2012)
Top Individual Storyline
With Buchanan ready to monopolize the top ten, will there be someone else claiming the individual title?
Unfortunately due to injuries, our defending champion Anna McNatt (McClatchy/SJ) had to sit out the season. That would leave Buchanan senior Sydney Sundgren, after placing third a year ago (17:30.4) to the front of the line. But, the recent Cal Poly San Luis Obispo commit has had recent struggles, opening the door for others -- namely, her own teammates!
With Buchanan possessing tremendous home course advantage, freshman Kynzlee Buckley comes in with the hot hand, fresh off her 17:39.6 Central Section title. Meanwhile, sophomore Elle Lomeli was their top scorer (17:28.1) when she placed third at the Clovis Invite in October! But senior Grace Hutchison and her breakthrough 17:18.9 performance to win the TRAC title is the season's best for the group on the Woodward Park course.
The favorite may very well be Great Oak senior Kelli Gaffney as she confidently motored the Mt. SAC course to a 17:29.1 divisional title! Meanwhile, competing more like a seasoned veteran and not a rookie, Santa Monica sophomore Phoebe Benun finished not too far behind at 17:34.6 as she led her school to their first-ever State Meet.
Santiago's Rylee Blade motored to 17:45.6 at the CIF-SS Finals, while one of the step-up performances we witnessed last week was that of Santa Ana's Sarahy Lopez (17:48.3), finishing just ahead of Redondo Union's Lyla Fedio (17:51.3). Despite struggling over the last mile last week, do not count out Quartz Hill's Brianne Smith, who placed seventh a year ago at the State Meet with a best of 17:47.1.
Top Team Storyline
Buchanan is primed for the Three-peat but which team will show up and who will take advantage if the opportunity presents itself?
The reality is that as tough as it has been, forming a consistent and healthy lineup the past two months for Buchanan, the Bears are so loaded and gifted with depth, we still have them projected to score under 40 points and establish a new team scoring record, even without being at full strength!
To provide perspective on just how talented a group possesses, let's take seasonal bests from the Woodward Course into play -- the lineup of Hutchison (17:18.9), Lomeli (17:28.1), Buckley (17:36.1), sophomore Sierra Cornett (17:54.6) and Sundgren (18:06.6) equates to an astonishing sub-88:30 clocking which would obliterate the all-time course record of 89:13, held by Great Oak from the 2015 State Meet! Due to recent inconsistencies, Buchanan slipped to fourth in the latest MileSplit50 National Rankings, but at full strength - this is the best squad in the nation!
So, what might transpire behind Buchanan in that battle for the other two spots on the podium?
Last week, we witnessed an epic clash at the Southern Section Finals that saw Great Oak back on top, claiming the title over two of the most improved programs in California in Santiago of Corona and Rancho Cucamonga.
Rancho Cucamonga's pack, featuring consistent sub-30 second scoring splits, suffered a setback a week ago when one of their scorers was their seventh to cross the line, thus opening the door for Great Oak. With Nicole Alfred and Madilyn Siana shooting for top-20 finishes, this group at full strength, is the favorite to claim the runner-up plaque in their first ever State Meet appearance.
Led by a poised Kelli Gaffney, the individual winner, the back-scoring depth of Great Oak showed up with the best race of the season. Sophomores Avery Smith and Maelin Nunez stepped up their game at last week's finals!
Headlined by sophomore Rylee Blade, Santiago of Corona almost pulled off the upset a week ago. Going into the weekend, ranked ninth in CA in the division, the Sharks now prove that they belong in the podium conversation as sophomore Audrey Buckley shattered the projections with an 18:15.3 performance!
But, watch out Southern Section! They could very well be pushed off the podium altogether with the likes of Central Section runner-up Clovis North and Sac-Joaquin Section champions, Oak Ridge in the mix. Both are well within striking range of the three CIF-SS folks as Ashlyn Leath (18:05.2 best from Woodward Park) seeks a top-10 finish. Meanwhile, Brooke Butler shines for Oak Ridge up front as the group will be right in the top-3 blender after four scorers ... but of course, we score five!
Torrey Pines would seek revenge on Del Norte, who surprised a few in capturing the San Diego Section title last week. Meanwhile, the much-improved group from Trabuco Hills (SS) will also be looking for a top-seven finish.
Team Time - Newbury Park (SS) 73:25 (2021)
Individual - Colin Sahlman (NewburyPark-SS) 14:26 (2021)
2021 Champions - Colin Sahlman (Newbury Park - SS) 14:26.5. Team - Newbury Park (SS) 16.
Top Individual Storyline
Can Matthew Donis repeat his performance from last weekend and take away the home-field advantage from Christopher Caudillo?
A week ago, Clovis senior Christopher Caudillo was firmly implanted on top of our list. But, that was until Matthew Donis (Highland) masterfully moved away from a stellar field, navigating the hills of the Mt. SAC course in an eye-popping 14:35 time to win the Southern Section title! Yes, he ran a 15:16.1 back at the Clovis Invite and placed 21st here a year ago. But, last weekend changed everything!
Now, keep in mind that no one in the division has successfully run the Woodward Park course better than Caudillo, who captured the Central Section title two weeks ago in 15:02.0. The Cal Poly San Luis Obispo-bound senior owns a lifetime best of 14:53.2 on the course and has run under 15:10 on six different occasions.
Ryan Mitchell (Davis/SJ) impressed with his 15:04.2 in placing fifth at the Clovis Invite while not too far behind, Milo Skapinsky (San Luis Obispo/CS) crossed in 15:09.0, just ahead of San Clemente's Juan Chantaca (15:11.3). Folsom's Nathan Short got the best of Mitchell at the Sac-Joaquin Section finals and has momentum and an extra week of rest coming in here. Ryan Thomas (Torrey Pines-SDS) will also bring his 800-meter speed into mix as he shined in claiming the title at the San Diego Section final.
Others that will be in the grind up front with these two include Parker Simmons (Crescenta Valley/SS), Cameron Rhone (Long Beach Poly/SS), Gabriel Rodriguez (Great Oak/SS), Ryan Thomas (Torrey Pines/SD), Gabriel Castillo (Etiwanda/SS), Jimmy Dominguez (Santa Ana/SS), and Jake Ratkovich (Loyola/SS). Our money is also on Jason Parra (Millikan/SS) to bounce back from a tough outing last weekend. Also, keep your eyes out for junior Carter Spradling (Clovis East/CS) who crossed with Skapinsky to place third at the Central Section Championships.
Top Team Storyline
Is San Clemente ready to ascend to the top of the Division I podium or will we see an upset?
Not much separated San Clemente and Great Oak until both hooked up against one another, here at Woodward Park, for the Clovis Invite. That was when the Tritons firmly established themselves as the top squad in Division I. A week later, they dominated the Orange County Championships but then repeated with another win over Great Oak at the Mt. SAC Invite.
Fast forward to last weekend, San Clemente delivered its first Southern Section divisional championship in school history. Keep in mind, placing as a distant seventh for the Tritons was a critical scorer from that October run. So, even vulnerable, they took care of business against a talented Great Oak squad. Eighth-ranked in the nation and at full strength, a year after making their first-ever State Meet appearance should yield the Tritons a State Championship and leave everybody else fighting for the runner-up plaque!
Juan Chantaca has moved into another tier while Rory Catsimanes has been their second scorer this past month. Meanwhile, Grant Sestak has trended upward this past several weeks. Since adding longtime legendary Dana Hills coach, Tim Butler, several years ago, the program has witnessed a meteoric rise!
In running to their seventh straight top-two finish at the CIF-SS Finals, Great Oak put together their best race to date but yet, they too seek to have their squad fully healthy this weekend. Gabriel Rodriguez and Mark Cortes headlined a week ago. The Wolfpack have been on the podium in each postseason since 2014 with an unprecedented run of six straight titles from 2014 to 2019!
But, vying to wedge themselves in and prevent a Southern Section monopoly on the podium, San Luis Obispo knows the Woodward Course well and comes in here as both the Central Section champions and the 2021 State D-II champions. SLO won the large division at CS despite having only approximately half the student population (the Central Section employs the policy of competitive equity) of the other top powers in the division.
Crescenta Valley surprisingly placed fourth, by one point to Trabuco Hills, at the CIF-SS Finals. But keep in mind that the Falcons were holding out Luke Cheney, who was their second scorer last month at the Clovis Invite. Parker Simmons rolled to a 15:16.6 in that same race and a fully loaded crew here could very well leapfrog Great Oak and San Luis Obispo. We have the three squads separated by less than 20 points.
Those four are in no way definite locks by the way! Watch for Central Section powers Madera South, and Clovis to look to pull the upset while also, do not dismiss a young, but talented, Trabuco Hills group!
Mark Gardner is a teacher, former coach, popular announcer and a regular contributor to MileSplit
Photos by DeAnna Turner and Raymond Tran