Familiar CIF-SS Successes On Rarely Run Mt. SAC Rain Course

* Millikan's Jason Parra won the CIF SS Finals Division I race at Mt. SAC on Saturday

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/Milesplit

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By Ryan Blystone - California MileSplit

WALNUT -- Saturday's 2023 CIF-Southern Section Ford Cross Country Championships produced plenty of familiarity for successful teams and individuals when races concluded and awards were handed out at Mount San Antonio College.

Four teams repeated as section division champions, including the San Clemente boys in Division I, St. Francis boys in Division IV and Viewpoint in Division V. One team, the JSerra Catholic girls, notched their third straight section title in Division IV.

Individually, Ventura's Sadie Engelhardt (Div. II), Dana Hills' Evan Noonan (Div. III), Cathedral's Emanuel Perez (Div. IV) and Woodcrest Christian's Eyan Turk (Div. V) each won their second straight titles while Oaks Christian's Payton Godsey claimed her third consecutive Div. IV championship.

Top individual performances were turned in by division winners like Noonan in 13:56 in Div. III and Millikan's Jason Parra, who won the Division I race in 13:57.4 -- which came in spite of running on a noticeably bloody foot arch.

"To have the change to the rain course the night before was definitely intimidating, but I just went into it with the confidence of knowing how my training has been and knowing what I'm capable of."

For the girls, Engelhardt went 15:26.8 in the Div. II race for the fastest time of the day, edging Santiago Corona Rylee Blade's great mark of 15:32.8 in her Div. I race.

One school, Dana Hills, swept the Division III boys and girls section team titles, while Ventura nearly did it with the girls, taking the Division II title while the Ventura boys missed out on a team championship by two points.

Yet for all of the familiarity on Saturday, there was one big difference.

The traditional and challenging and hilly Mt. SAC course that is the norm for all competitors to win section titles and qualify and earn their spot in the CIF-State Championship Meet at Fresno's Woodward Park, was supplanted.

On Friday, 24 hours before Saturday's opening finals race, CIF-SS announced that due to weather forecasts calling for significant rain, all races were changed to Mt. SAC's Rain Course, a flat and fast looping road course that ended with runners entering Hilmer Lodge Stadium to finish the last nearly 400 meters on the track.

Opinions differed when asked about the changed course. Most took it in stride. Coaches noted that after seeing advance weather forecasts, they informed their runners to prepare to run on an alternative course.

While it is the same conditions for everyone, some runners believed running one less time on the hilly course would aid post-race recovery as they focus on the state meet.

* A runner from Division I competes at the CIF Southern Section Finals on Saturday

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/MileSplit

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"I ran a really controlled race," said San Clemente's top runner Brett Ephraim, who finished third overall to help the Tritons win the Division I title. "Course-wise I think it benefitted me. I know I'm strong on hills, but I definitely do well and I'm able to relax on a flatter course. I can control my breathing, control my base and make better surges rather than have to be so controlled over the hills and take different spots harder."

Engelhardt, an individual and team title winner, said: "Once we heard it would be the rain course, it allowed us to go a little bit faster and be a little more forgiving on the body. I was a big fan of this course."

Ella Murray, who transferred from Huntington Beach Marina to Pacifica Christian Orange County this year, was the top individual finisher for the Division V race in 17:52.6. Her success, as well as propelling her team into the seventh and final State qualifying spot, helped her overcome any nerves she was feeling entering Saturday's race.

"I was definitely intimidated with the rain course because I'd been preparing for Mt. SAC and all of the hills on this course the past three weeks," she said. "To have the change to the rain course the night before was definitely intimidating, but I just went into it with the confidence of knowing how my training has been and knowing what I'm capable of."

Olly O'Connor, who was the top finisher for Viewpoint's Division V championship team performance, said the course change was quickly embraced.

"The race was absolutely amazing today. When we got confirmation about the change to the rain course yesterday, we put our faith in that and we were all prepared for it, ready to run fast. We knew we'd have to be super aggressive today for all of us to have a good race."

Some new teams embraced winning a championship. St. Margaret's Episcopal girls took the Division V title, Santiago Corona girls won the Division I championship and Santa Barbara edged Ventura 86-88 for the Division II boys title. In the latter, Andreas Dybdahl pulled ahead of Ventura's Anthony Fast Horse to win in 14:04.5. Fast Horse's time was 14:05.1.

Another individual success was Corona del Mar's Melisse Djomby Enyawe, who won the Division III title in 16:46.6. She had finished second in 2022 and sixth in 2021.

"I'm really happy because my No. 1 goal when I left here last year, was to win CIF finals," the senior said. "I really love Mt. SAC, I like the hills, so since this was my last time, I was a little sad, but I made the best out of it."

The top seven teams in each division and the top five runners from non-qualifying teams advanced as individuals to this Saturday's CIF-State Championships.

* Dana Hills' Evan Noonan walks to the awards podium after his performance at the CIF SS Finals

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/MileSplit

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