Ventura Boys Could Be Primed For Breakthrough XC Season

* Anthony Fast Horse, a state title contender, is primed to lead Ventura this year from the front

Photo Credit: California MileSplit

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In 2021, the Ventura High School boys varsity cross country team -- buoyed by five sophomores -- finished in eighth place in the CIF Division 2 race.

In 2022, the program moved up to third place at the state meet and finished sixth in the merge following all of the races.

The eventual national champions, Newbury Park, and NXN qualifier Granada finished in front of Ventura in one of the most competitive races at the state meet.

But those past two seasons laid the groundwork for the current Ventura team, which may be the best in California this fall and is now among the best teams in the nation.

This season, Ventura, which opened up the MileSplit50 at No. 23 nationally, will be led by first-year coach with a very familiar name to the city.

For the past 25 years, coach Tyree Cruz headed the Ventura cross country team, which included a boy's state championship harrier team in 2014. He was an alumnus of the school and ran for veteran coach Bill Tokar.

Cruz was planning on returning as the coach, but he decided at the beginning of the summer to resign. And so taking over for the Cougars this season is another alumni, Josh Spiker.

He was a 1998 Foot Locker Nationals finalist and 1999 California State champion in the 3,200m.

At Wisconsin, Spiker ran for famed coach Jerry Schumacher -- who is currently at the University of Oregon and leads the Bowerman Track Club -- where he was an academic cross country and track and field all-American.

He also finished in third place in the 1,500m in 2002. He now owns Mile 26, a running store in Ventura and also puts on a number of races in the area including the Boogie Nights summer series and the Ventura Marathon. 

In 2023, Ventura will be one of the most experienced teams in the state with their talented group of seniors. The team will be led by senior Anthony Fast Horsewho finished fourth at the Division 2 state championships, only trailing only Lex Young, Leo Young, and Aaron Sahlman of Newbury Park.

He had the eighth fastest time overall and qualified to Nike Cross Nationals as an individual, where he finished in 60th place. Trackwise, Fast Horse had a best of 1:55.60 in the 800m in an early-season race.  He only lost one 800m during the season to Noah Ray of Buchanan at the West Coast Relays.

In the 1,600m, he ran 4:10.16 for the full mile at the Azusa Meet of Champions.  He ended up in third in the state at 4:08.84, losing to Andreas Dybdahl of Santa Barbara, a league opponent. In the 3,200m, Fast Horse broke Josh Spiker's school record in the 3,200m with a time of 8:51.40 at the Arcadia Invitational, his last 3,200m of the season.

Fellow seniors Micah Grossman and Nick DeGeorge finished in 12th (15:26) and 16th (15:35) at the 2022 state meet. During this past track season, Grossman ran 4:10.80 at Azusa MOC for a full mile. He was fourth behind Brayden Seymour of Newbury Park, Ryan Thomas of Torrey Pines and teammate Fast Horse.

He ran 9:01.06 at the Arcadia Invitational and was a state meet qualifier in the 1600 as a time qualifier (ran 4:13.82 for 8th at SS Masters). He ran in the Portland Track Festival before taking a break. DeGeorge ran 4:32.85 and 9:35.84 early over the outdoor season.

Two more seniors, Henry Hammel and Hollis Costa, give the Cougars a strong duo behind their talented front three. Hammel ran 14:49 at Woodbridge and 15:48 at prelims on the Mt. SAC course. In track, he won the Ventura Invitational 3,200m and ran 9:24.48 at the Azusa Meet of Champions for his overall PR. He was fourth in the Ventura County Championships in the 3,200m and was second in the Channel League in the same race.

He didn't run a lot of 1600s, but he did have a best of 4:30.45 in a tri-meet.  Costa had a sold track season with a 1,600m PR of 4:25.67.  He was second in Ventura County in the 3,200m with a PR of 9:27.46. He took third in Channel League 3,200m.

Sophomore Blake Harris made a big jump during this past track and field season. He ran 1:59.99 at the league finals in the 800m. He had bests of 4:30.97 and 10:09.73 for the other two distance races.

The Cougars will also have a great supporting cast in case any of the top seven are visiting colleges or nursing injuries. Junior Ethan Jekogian won the frosh-soph race at Ventura County Championships. He improved in track to 4:49.83 and 10:18.55. Another junior, Henry Hottinger may also be in the mix at different times. He recorded bests of 4:41.20 and 10:20.06 in track. 

An added bonus for the Cougars is two potential transfers from Newbury Park, Jonah and Noah Sloan.

Jonah, a senior, had a best of 4:39.92 in the 1600. Noah, a sophomore, had bests of 4:30.52 and 9:37.57 as a freshman this past track season.