On Saturday, California high school cross country stars Payton Godsey (left) and Aaron Sahlman each won individual national championship races, competing in Huntsville, Alabama, and in Portland, Oregon, respectively, some 2,460 miles apart.
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Let's hear it for the Californians!
Golden State high school cross country athletes ventured to Huntsville, Alabama and Portland, Oregon over the weekend and brought home two individual national titles, one team title, one runner-up title and a third-place crown in representing the CA quite well against many of the nation's best.
In Alabama, it was Oaks Christian (SS) junior Payton Godsey running away with the girls Gold Division -- read Elite! -- title at the Garmin RunningLane Championship on the 5K course at John Hunt Park. It was there that individual champion Colin Sahlman led Newbury Park to a second consecutive national boys title last December.
Godsey, the Southern Section and CIF-State Division IV champion, went out in 5:26.70 for the lead but slipped to third by the 2-mile split before an absolutely unequalled 6:08.7 over the final third of the course carried her to a 5.90-second victory.
She had team support with her but left them well behind. Senior Sarah Colebrooke, 49th in 18:51.40, was closest for the "Westlake Village Lions" as they placed ninth among 26 teams.
Godsey wasn't the only CA standout in Huntsville. The boys team at Oakdale (SJ), Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF-State Division III champions, roared to a second-place team finish behind just Riverton (UT) HS.
Junior Omar Alsaidi placed ninth overall -- fourth among team scoring runners -- in 15:22.20, with senior Dax Daley (69/20 in 15:58.80) and Caleb Cavanaugh (88/33 in 16:06.80) next across the line for the Oakdale Mustangs XC Club. Junior Jackson Oliveira placed 90th (35) in 16:07.00 and sophomore Jacob Cavanaugh (149/71 in 16:31.60) completed the scoring for the Mustangs. Alsaidi made up 14 spots over the final two-thirds of the race to place ninth.
Out in the Pacific Northwest, the boys from Newbury Park were going after a second consecutive Team Nationals title and third consecutive national crown, while the girls from Buchanan were looking to solidify the top-three ranking the Bears have warranted all season.
Newbury Park and Buchanan were among eight CA teams and another 10 at-large individuals invited to take on the rugged challenge of December weather in Portland along with the taxing 5,000-meter course at Glendoveer Golf Club just a couple miles south of the Columbia River and the Washington state line.
Unlike previous years, the course was firm, rather than soggy and wet. But it was still Portland in December and temperatures peaked at 41 and winds howled from the East. Yet, the dry footing made for an exceptionally fast race.
Although hardly in the fashion most predicted, Newbury Park's boys would were as dominant as ever. Senior Aaron Sahlman came on strong late to pass two teammates and drop his stellar 800-meter speed over the final hills and the grass sprint to victory a year after his older brother Colin blew away the field at RunningLane -- and while wearing the same Dragonfly shoes that his brother wore last December.
Aaron Sahlman dropped a course record 14:44.50 -- bettering the standard set by former high school and future college teammate Nico Young in 2019 of 14:52.3 -- in becoming the third consecutive CA boy to win in Portland following Young and Liam Anderson of Redwood (NC) in 2018.
Sahlman opened around 15th place before moving near the front and then dropped back-to-back 84.8- and 85.5-second splits to beat American Fork junior Daniel Simmons by 7.2 seconds.
"We were all surprised," Newbury Park coach Tanya Brosnan said. "I think Aaron was surprised."
Surprised, not from a talent standpoint at all, she emphasized.
Sahlman has been one of the U.S. top-ranked program's elite runners but was always a high-end complementary runner behind his brother last season and the Young twins -- seniors Lex and Leo -- this fall.
It's just that this was Sahlman's first cross country race win in high school.
Brosnan said she thought the Youngs and Sahlman would all be among the top five, "definitely top 10."
"I didn't expect Aaron on top," she said. "I'm proud of the way he ran."
Sahlman said he went strong up the late hills, opening up his stride and then kicked toward the finish. With a quarter mile to go, he could see the future.
"In my head, 'Oh, crap, I actually think I could win this,' " he said. "I just need to push a little bit harder just so I could create a gap and I think I did that."
CIF-State Division II champion Lex Young, and his twin brother Leo, were near the front early before Lex started to slip back after the 2-mile split. Leo held tight until the final split where one of the late-race climbs appeared to get the best of him. He lost positioning late and finished in 11th (fourth among team scorers) in 14:58.2.
Senior Brayden Seymour, the transfer from Florida, came up huge in Portland, placing 24th overall (seventh) in 15:26.2 with Lex Young next in 35th (12th) in 15:36.8. Senior Aaron Cantu closed out the scoring in 78th place overall (42nd in 16:01.1).
Newbury Park scored 66 points -- just over half the total they posted in winning in 2019 -- leaving Portland Jesuit a very distant second with 152. They ran a team time of 76:46 with a 15:21 average.
Brosnan said the race didn't quite go to plan but "the outcome was the same. ... They did what they needed to do and came out on top."
CIF-State Division I champion Great Oak (SS) was sixth with Southern Section D-1 champion San Clemente next in seventh, and Granada (NC) placing 16th among the 22 teams that scored.
Individually, Southern Section and State D-I champion Matthew Donis, a senior from Palmdale Highland (SS), placed 13th overall out of 198 runners in 15:04.30. Evan Noonan, a sophomore from Dana Hills (SS), the Southern Section and State Division III champion started in the high 80s but made up ground at every split the rest of the way to place 46th (15:47.10). Granada senior Roland Ruckmann-Barnes was 47th in 15:47.10. Senior Rory Catsimanes placed 50th (20th among scorers) to lead San Clemente. Senior Mark Cortes was 55th (24th), to lead Great Oak (15:51.30).
State Division IV champion Emmanuel Perez, a junior at Cathedral (SS), was 44th overall in 15:43.5, Clovis (CS) senior Christopher Caudillo was 45th (15:45.1), and Ventura (SS) junior Anthony Fasthorse was 60th in 15:53.8.
For the up-and-down season that unfolded for the Buchanan High girls cross country team, the end results are still pretty amazing. The Bears, three-time CIF-State Division I champions, placed fifth at Team Nationals in 2019 and third at RunningLane Nationals last December. For '22, the Bears brought back the bulk of that championship lineup and add two stellar young newcomers.
The Bears, despite a sub-par season from usual No. 1 senior Sydney Sundgren and inconsistency from senior Grace Hutchison, still won the team title at Woodbridge and Flat SAC, crushed it once again at the Central Section Finals, and rolled to another State trophy with a D-I team points record (40) and the fourth-lowest team time in division history, 89:32.
In placing fifth at Team Nationals in 2019 -- the most recent previous year of the event -- the Bears scored 201 points, and ran a team time of 94:57.
On Saturday, they put up 116 points with a 91:03 team time led by Hutchison, who placed 29th overall (ninth among team scorers) in 17:51.60.
Two sophomores were next in Elliana Lomeli (44/17 in 18:06.30) and Sierra Cornett (54/23 in 18:11.70). Sundgren, who like Hutchison has been a four-year rock in lifting the program onto the national stage, ran No. 4 at Glendooveer, crossing 66th (33rd) in 18:21.90. Freshman Kynzlee Buckley, closed out the Buchanan scoring (76/39) in 18:32.40.
Campolindo (NC), winners of the last three State Division III girls titles, earned a first trip to compete at Team Nationals. Boston College-bound senior stalwart Ellie Buckley (at right in photo above) led the way once again for Campo, placing 26th (eighth) in 17:50.70 after starting out in the mid-40s. Buckley, a four-year foundation of the program, has placed 11th, fifth, and third as the Cougars have won both North Coast and CIF-State team titles each year.
Junior Shea Volkmer, as she has done consistently each of the last two fall seasons, once again ran No. 2 for Campo, placing 69th (35th) in 18:25.00.
State D-II champion Los Altos (CC) and D-IV champion JSerra (SS), also competed in Portland.
Junior Jasleen Sidhu placed 96th (55th) in 18:46.90 to lead Los Altos, which was without Duke-bound senior standout Lauren Soobrian and placed 19th. Soobrian gritted through an injury at the State championships before shutting it down.
Freshman Summer Wilson placed 103rd (61st) to lead JSerra, which placed 21st.
Individually, two-time State D-III champion Hanne Thomsen, a sophomore at Montgomery (NC), placed 16th in 17:35.20. It was her first cross country race loss since the Clovis Invitational in early October of 2021. Thomsen (bib 12 in photo running with Grace Hutchison) was the top CA runner at the meet.
There were four other at-large individual girls from CA: Eastlake (SD) freshman Jaelyn Williams placed 74th (18:31.70), Mira Costa (SS) senior Anna Chittenden was 75th (18:31.90), Poway (SD) junior Tessa Buswell, the State D-I champion, was 100th (18:48.90), and Corona Santiago (SS) sophomore Rylee Blade was 158th (19:42.40).