STATE BOYS RECAP - Familiar Finish for Newbury, Great Oak

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FRESNO -- Two program constants for CIF-State Cross Country Championship meets in the 2010s, Great Oak of Temecula and Newbury Park, have kept up their presence and production so far in this new decade.

Great Oak, competing in Division I, won five consecutive boys CIF-State championships between 2014 to 2018. Newbury Park is currently on a streak with State title wins in Division II in 2018, 2019, and, after COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season, it even edged Great Oak in the State Division I title race in 2021.

On Saturday, these teams were back at it, albeit again in different divisions, and their respective success remains in fine form. Within an hour's time -- Newbury Park's Division II race was at 11 a.m. and Great Oak was in the Division I race at noon at Fresno's Woodward Park -- both teams showed why they are two of California's best boys teams.

For Newbury Park, keeping its streak of multiple State-winning teams going meant that seniors Lex Young and Leo Young, Aaron Sahlman and Brayden Seymour were able to put together another record-setting performance. In winning State title No. 4, the Panthers set Division II records for team scoring with 24, shattering the previous best of 37 by Newbury Park's 2019 D-II squad. They also lowered the team D-II time record to 74:34 that was set by the 2019 Panthers (75:27).

"It's a little weird to switch to Division II, but it is still the California State Meet and everyone, regardless of division, is insanely competitive and it's impressive," said Lex Young.

Added Sahlman: "It means a lot to the seniors on the team. This is the last time we'll be wearing this uniform and winning state. I think I speak for all of us seniors when I say we're super proud of this."

Individually, Lex Young's first-place time of 14:27.87, a personal best at Woodward Park, lowered the best D-II boys winning time by one second, which was formerly held by Lex's older brother, Nico Young, who went 14:29 in 2018. Furthermore, it was an important victory for Lex, who won his first State individual title, joining Nico, a two-time winner in 2018 and 2019. The remaining runners were Leo Young (14.38.31, second), Sahlman (14:41.04, third), junior Dev Doshi (15:17.1, seventh) and Seymour (15:29.07, 13th).

"This was something special," said Doshi, a junior who will be a top senior for Newbury Park next fall. "It takes seven guys to do this and I thought everyone did a great job working as a team."

Great Oak's team performance in the D-I race was also impressive. The Wolfpack won the D-I title for the sixth time, scoring 67 points to finish ahead of three other CIF-Southern Section schools, runner-up San Clemente (80), Crescenta Valley (167) and Trabuco Hills (172).

The Wolfpack's five-man split was 20 seconds as Mark Cortes was the top runner, ninth in 15:23.47, followed by Ramses Cortes at 16th (15:32.67) and Gabriel Rodriguez (15:34) in 19th place. Rounding out Great Oak's scoring were Nathan Lennox and Austin Elkins, 25th and 26th place in 15:43.24 and 15:43.65, respectively.

"I thought we had an awesome pack, good run placement the first mile, hold it the second mile and give it all we had to the finish," said Ramses Cortes of the team's strategy.

Due to the influx of new D-I challengers, which included 2021 Division II State champion San Luis Obispo as well as teams having very strong seasons such as San Clemente and Crescenta Valley, Great Oak, a perennial power in cross country knew it needed to come into races this year ready to perform to expectations.

"We knew that San Clemente and Crescenta Valley would put up a good fight, but even though we thought we had a good chance of winning, we needed to pull together as a group to do it," Mark Cortes said. 

Ramses Cortes elaborated, saying, "if we put in the work and changed our mindset we felt we could accomplish something great."

Great Oak, indeed, was great when it counted most on Saturday. Newbury Park, another veteran State team, had the same formula and the result was a familiar finish in Fresno.