2016-12-02 / Sports

Running wild

CROSS COUNTRY /// CIF State Championships Underdog Royal girls’ cross country team battles at state meet in Fresno
By Jonathan Andrade

BAD TO THE BONE — Royal High’s girls’ cross country team finished in third place in the Coastal Canyon League but still made a memorable post-season run to the CIF State Championships on Nov. 26 in Fresno. BAD TO THE BONE — Royal High’s girls’ cross country team finished in third place in the Coastal Canyon League but still made a memorable post-season run to the CIF State Championships on Nov. 26 in Fresno. Local high school cross country teams went up against the fastest runners in California at the CIF State Cross Country Championships last weekend in Fresno.

“There were lots of fast runners,” said Oak Park sophomore Sylvia Cruz-Albrecht, who took fifth place in the girls’ Division III race. “It was quite an honor to run and compete against them. It was a different kind of race when you’re pacing yourself against such fast runners. You have a different mindset. It really pushed me to mentally challenge myself.”

Athletes from Moorpark, Newbury Park, Oak Park, Oaks Christian and Royal were up for the challenge.

Newbury Park’s boys’ team, which captured a Marmonte League title and reached its second state meet in program history, capped its postseason run with a ninth-place finish in the Division I field. The Panthers last qualified for state in 1991.

Ethan Duffy, a Newbury Park senior, crossed the finish line in 15 minutes, 47 seconds, good enough for 24th place. Teammate Ethan Ronk, a sophomore crossed in 16:02. Freshmen Jace Aschbrenner (16:31) and Nico Young (16:36) and juniors Nathaniel Garner (16:59), William Bilson (17:11) and Alex Manos (17:28) also ran well for Newbury Park.

“They set high goals for themselves from the beginning of the season,” Panther head coach Marty Maciel said. “They wanted to be the fastest team in school history, which is a lofty goal. They actually achieved that twice.”

The team broke the old record while taking fourth at the Woodbridge Invitational on Sept. 17 in a combined team time of 77 minutes, 28 seconds. They set the bar a little higher at the CIF-Southern Section finals on Nov. 19 in 77:18.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that record went down again next year,” Maciel said.

Newbury Park graduates one runner from its starting lineup. The Panthers want to make a trip to the state meet a common occurrence.

“We’re instilling in the kids that there’s no reason we can’t go to the state meet from here on to the next 10 years,” the coach said.

Oaks Christian’s boys earned their best finish in program history by snagging fourth place in Division IV.

Trent Robinett, a senior, paced the Lions with a ninth-place finish (15:54). It was a fitting end for the senior, who also claimed the Ventura County meet title on Oct. 28.

Juniors Graham Newman (16:23) and Jacob Erbes (16:35) ran well for Oaks Christian. Colin Schaub (16:46), Preston Strother (17:09), Caleb Erlenborn (17:21) and Garrett Garrido (17:39) churned out solid performances for the Lions.

Three girls’ teams from the Coastal Canyon League competed for the top spot in the Division III race.

Moorpark, which qualified for its third consecutive state meet, finished in ninth place for the second year in a row. The team took seventh in 2014.

The Musketeers, who have four state appearances in school history, have come a long way since the team reached its first state final in 1987.

“Our No. 7 runner this year would have beaten our No. 1 runner back in 1987,” head coach Scott Mangers said.

Former Musketeer April Beaver, now April Baxter, the mother of Simi Valley cross country legend Sarah Baxter, was Moorpark’s top runner in 1987.

Current Moorpark sophomore Kayla Akina, the team’s seventh runner, was competing in her first-ever state race. She crossed the finish line in 20:04 at Fresno on Nov. 26.

“It’s pretty impressive to be putting seven people in front of that caliber of a runner,” Mangers said.

Nevaeh Walla, a sophomore, bested her time from last year’s state meet by more than half a minute, crossing the finish line in 18:40. Valerie Tobias, a freshman, was right behind Walla (18:41). Kelly Wade (19:30), Sarah Goldrod (19:56), Amanda Villa (19:57) and Syenna Ponce (19:57) also ran well for Moorpark.

“It was without a doubt our best team performance we’ve ever had,” Mangers said. “It feels really good that the training came together. When we wanted to be our best, we were our best.”

Moorpark will graduate only one senior, and Mangers said he expects to be back in Fresno next fall.

“We’ve proven ourselves as one of the better teams in the state,” he said. “Now it’s time to take the step to the next level. Ventura County teams are having success up there. We’d like to contend for a state trophy, top three.”

It was a fitting end for the scrappy Royal’s girls’ team, which finished third in the Coastal Canyon with 12 runners on the roster.

The Highlanders fell just short of a top-10 finish at state, taking 15th, but head coach Jay Sramek couldn’t have been prouder of his little team that could.

“The goal was getting there,” Sramek said. “It was more about the process of getting there. I told the girls, ‘You don’t want to base the season off of one race. You have to look at what it took to get there.’ We put in all the work necessary to get there.”

Madeline Marciano, a sophomore, clocked a 19:17 to lead the Highlanders. Seniors Andrea Cortes (19:17) and Delaney Locke (19:52) battled for Royal. Adriana Perez (20:15), Danielle Calderon (20:15), Grace Morrissey (21:08) and Angelena Perdomo (21:36) also turned in quality races for Royal.

Sramek said he knew his team had what it took to reach state after a second-place finish at the Santa Clarita Valley Invitational on Oct. 8.

“We’d always talked about going out there and expecting to win,” the coach said. “It was the first time we saw this group, as a unit, go try and win. It wasn’t about just running well. It was ‘Let’s go try and win.’ That was the wake-up call. That was a big step forward for us as a team.”

The Highlanders lose quality senior leaders, but Sramek hopes the underclassmen took notes.

“The kids learned a lot,” he said. “Our senior leadership was there to show the young ones what working hard means and what it means to be a good teammate. Hopefully they learned enough to carry the torch next year.”

Sylvia Cruz-Albrecht carried the torch for Ventura County, turning in the best finish of any runner in Acorn country.

The talented sophomore crossed the finish line in a personal record 17:44 to take fifth. The individual Coastal Canyon League champion finished last year’s state meet in 18:12.

“What I really liked about the race was that I really got to push myself trying to pass other runners,” Cruz-Albrecht said.

Sarah Shulze (19:56), Emily Beneduce (20:00) and Isabelle Tamaddon (20:06) helped Oak Park, in its second straight visit to Fresno, finish 17th as a team.

Juniors Dani Sadon (20:31), Katie Hamiter (20:33) and Wendy Billig (20:36) chipped in personal best performances for the Eagles.

“When it comes to race time, they all put their best effort forward every time,” Oak Park head coach Steve White said. “The hard work they put in practice after practice obviously paid off.”

Beneduce is the only graduating senior in the lineup.

The Eagles have a bright future with a motivated Cruz-Albrecht at the front of the pack.

“I find, with every race, my passion for running grows,” she said. “I got quite a few PRs. I think I’ve really grown as a runner. It’s been a really great experience.

“My performance at state has shown me I really do want to do this. This is something I love to do. I’m just going to keep giving it my all.”

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