FEATURE Buchanan Senior Girls set for final spring 'Paces'

Seniors Sydney Sundgren (left) and Grace Hutchison (center) - pictured with sophomore Eliana Lomeli - have been two of the building blocks leading Buchanan's girls distance program to national prominence over the past four years.

They call it the "Buchanan" paces.

It's a pace worksheet developed by the Buchanan coaching staff to dictate effort for the workouts of their formidable distance squad. 

The Buchanan distance girls have subtly grown on the map in recent years. Led by seniors Grace Hutchison and Sydney Sundgren, the Buchanan girls are loaded with top talent - all of which will be in open display at this weekend's West Coast Relays at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High School in Clovis.

"It's kind of a meet we really get hyped for, the environment is always just so good," said Hutchison. "It's a competitive environment with fast times and good competition. It's such a good opportunity to really put yourself on the line and go after something - it's really exciting." 

An indicator of the Bears' strength lies within their season goals - "get as many girls sub-5 in the mile and sub-11 in the 3200 as we can," said Hutchison. 

It's a goal some programs only dream of having one girl accomplish, much less multiple. 

"This group of girls is crazy, crazy talented," said head coach Brian Weaver, who has been on the coaching staff of the program since its inception in the early 1990s.  "As far as a complete talent package, I think they would rival any talent in the country over time."

Seniors Sydney Sundgren (left) and Caroline Mendyk on the track earlier this season.

With Sundgren, Hutchison, and fellow Class of 2023 teammate Caroline Mendyk all scoring, the Bears upset perennial champion Great Oak (SS) to win the CIF-State Division I cross country title in 2019. That team went on to place sixth at Nike Cross Nationals. And the run was on.

Following the COVID-deleted 2020 season, Buchanan again won the State D-I cross country title and went on to place second at the Garmin RunningLane Nationals.

And in the fall, Buchanan girls won a third consecutive State XC title, led by Division I runner-up Hutchison. The team then took third back up at Portland at the return of Nike Cross Nationals, earning a top-3 national ranking for a second consecutive season.

Buchanan's "Clovis" girls enjoy the celebration following their third-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals in early December.

Those fall accomplishments have bled into their success in spring track and field. And before that senior trio heads off to college - Hutchison to BYU, Sundgren to Cal Poly-SLO, and Mendyk to Wisconsin - there are revolutions on the oval still to be run.

"We always really try to make it a complete track and field program, but we've always been pretty good in the distance races," said Weaver.

Good might be an understatement.

The Buchanan track and field girls team claimed the CIF-State Track and Field title in 2019, and has won the Central Section title 12 times in track and field - including for the past seven seasons.

"It's been a crazy experience, coming into a legacy there's been so many expectations and things that you don't expect I guess and it's been really exciting to be with a great group of girls and awesome coaches," said Tayler Torosian, a freshman on the team. 

Last May at the State Track and Field Finals, held on the Buchanan track, Hutchison placed sixth in the 1600m, then-frosh Sierra Cornett was seventh, Sundgren was 10th in the 3200m, now-senior Jordan Leveque was seventh in the pole vault, and on the boys side, now-senior Hilton Green was the pole vault runner-up, and the boys 4x100-meter relay team placed sixth.

Another building block of success in Buchanan's arsenal is the area's offering of cross-country and track to both elementary and junior high students, allowing athletes to compete in both sports as early as the 4th grade. The majority of the Buchanan distance girls began running at the elementary or middle school level. 

"It's not always the kid who is the best in middle school that is the best in high school, but it develops them," said Weaver.

The Buchanan girls will take their first shot at a 4x800m time at the West Coast Relays this weekend, setting themselves up strongly for a bid into the State Meet on their home track for the freshly-minted event. The Bears will try out two lineups on Saturday involving the XC State champion-mainstays: Torosian, Sundgren, Cornett running with freshman Kynzlee Buckley on one team, and Mendyk, sophomore Elliana Lomeli, and Grace Hutchison running with Grace's sophomore sister Avery Hutchison on the other team.

"These kids aren't out for glory, they just want to work hard," said distance coach Marty Simpson, who started the program at Buchanan in the early 1990s and remains on staff.

Grace Hutchison leads the way during a race on the track earlier this season.

For the Buchanan distance girls, there are other workout names thrown around too along with "Buchanan" paces. 

McFarland is the one that sticks out. Named after the legendary claimants of the first State XC Championship titles in 1988, the Buchanan distance girls nearly all mention "the McFarland" as a favorite workout. 

The workout, a mix and match blend of distances at mile pace, was a top favorite among the girls. 

"My favorite workout is the McFarland," said Torosian. "I think it's so crazy to be at a fast speed and work together and we keep each other to a really high standard."

Work hard, play hard.

"They're all pretty fun girls, they like to laugh," said Weaver.  "They really do enjoy having fun - nothing too crazy - but they generally are always happy, thankful and gracious girls."

The girls also share a tight bond.

"I love that we're all really close and before races we go and have dinner together and we pray together beforehand and talk about the race and strategies before and after," said Elliana Lomeli, a sophomore. "We get a mental look at [the race] and are thankful for what we get to do."

The girls make sure to support each other beyond the distance squad. 

"My favorite part of track is in between events and I go watch a pole vaulter, it's fun how we recognize we all are helping one team," said Hutchison. "It's amazing how we're all doing different things [yet] working toward the same goal."

A team mantra for Buchanan is the term "Run the Race." 

"I think the biggest thing is we try to be honest with them about things, because they get put on a pedestal because of their own successes," said Weaver. "We don't want them to ever think they're better than anyone else - so we keep them honest, talk about what it's like at the college level, that there's still more ahead." 

Hutchison notes "Run the Race" has stuck with her. 

"You have to put yourself out there," Hutchison said. "But at the end of the day it's just running."

Expanded video from the CIF-State Division I Cross Country championship race

The McFarland Workout of the Buchanan Distance Squad

All at goal mile pace or faster
200m rest 60
200m rest 45
200m rest 30
200m rest 15
Jog lap do 3x
Finish with ...
300m jog 100m
200m jog 100m
100m jog lap do 2x

Melody Karpinski is the head coach at Montgomery (NC), a freelance writer, and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

California MileSplit state editor Jeffrey Parenti contributed to this article.

Photos by DeAnna Turner and Kyle Brazeil