* Dana Hills' Evan Noonan ran away from the competition over the final mile at the Woodbridge XC Classic on Saturday
Photo Credit: Carlos Celio/MileSplit
- - -
IRVINE, Calif. -- Evan Noonan's ability to take his performance to another level is entering habitual status.
His freshman season at Dana Hills High School ended with him running 16:44.7 for 5K to finish 100th overall -- and 78th in scoring -- as the fifth runner for the Dolphins' state team that finished seventh at the CIF Division II Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
Last year, Noonan never ran above 16 minutes. He had several sub-15 race times for three miles and set his 5,000-meter personal best when he won the CIF State Division III individual title in 15:04.23.
So it was fair to ask this fall: What would the 2023 season bring?
For starters, Noonan's season-opening performance at the 42nd annual Woodbridge XC Classic Saturday night set the tone for what should be an exciting junior year.
Noonan's blistering final mile enabled him to catch and pass a slew of other top runners to win the Doug Speck Boys Sweepstakes individual title. He ran Irvine's fast and flat Great Park course in a personal-best time of 13:41.3 for three miles, now No. 3 all-time over the meet's history -- one that is full of course variation.
Noonan was in 20th place after the first mile and moved up to fifth by the second mile. Going into the final stanza, controversial splits or not (the official split had him at 4:08), Noonan took control to beat out such title contenders as Ventura senior Anthony Fast Horse (second 13:48.1); Emanuel Perez, a senior from Cathedral (third, 13:50.7); and Jojo Jourdon, a senior from Olympus High School in Utah (fourth, 13:57.8).
"Coming here was so much fun," Noonan said. "It was super nerve-wracking, but so much fun. To come here and set down a very fast PR for the season, it helps me set my goals even higher for the rest of the season."
This was Noonan's first-ever appearance at Woodbridge, which is a meet that continues to grow in sheer numbers of schools, states and athletes who take part in the two-day format. A total of 52 races, including the Doug Speck (boys) and Bob Day (girls) sweepstakes races -- which were under the lights and closed off the festivities near 10 p.m. -- were on display.
The stage was set for a great race on Saturday night, given the caliber of the competition in the elite boys field, many of whom Noonan has run with and against the past few years during both cross country and the outdoor track season.
"I know about the great competition here and out-of-state. To know I can compete with these guys and do my best is really great," he said. "It's honestly just great to know all of these people, many of whom are such good friends. We all love competing against each other, doing our best and being happy with the results."
One might have thought finishing second in this early competitive environment would have left Fast Horse feeling a bit frustrated in what was also his season-opening appearance.
But it didn't faze him. He praised his counterpart's effort and indicated he was happy for his friend's success.
"I'm very happy for Evan, we're really good friends. We were roommates at (Nike Cross Country) nationals, that's how we met a year ago," Fast Horse said. "We've been hanging out through track. Sometimes he comes up to the In-N-Out in my city and I run into him from time to time.
"As for racing, Evan knows how to throw down in a race and can always kick and that's what he executed (Saturday). He really was gaining with like 1K to go. It was me, Manny and JoJo and then all of a sudden, Evan comes out of nowhere, per usual. He's very talented. He's really going places."
Noonan's accolades grew with this strong win -- his time was three seconds off the Woodbridge meet record set in 2021 on a different course by former Newbury Park standout Leo Young.
But Noonan's time Saturday also was more than a second faster than last year's best performance from the now-graduated Tyrone Gorze of Crater (OR). He ran 13:42.8.
"I really felt great at about a mile and a half and I felt my strongest, physically and mentally, at about 400 (meters to go), coming down that stretch knowing I was going to leave it out there and do my best," Noonan said.
That was the case in the first big test of the 2023 season.
Now, Noonan is eager to build upon it.