By Leonard COUTIN
Shoe manufacturer Asics sponsored one of the most prestigious cross-country meets on pre-state cross course at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday at the Asics Clovis Invitational. Celebrating its 37th year and with more than 18 races held throughout the day, this meet had more than 4,000 athletes running the 5000-meter course. The site has hosted all 28 state finals since 1987.
The event drew a large crowd from schools in and outside the state with California’s top individual contenders providing the fuel for a record day. The two varsity sweepstakes races of the day were the boys and girls championship events. Each provided its own highlight performances for spectators, and proved this was the place to be whether a fan or a runner. Nationally acclaimed teams battled hard along the scenic trails of the park leading to the finish line. This year’s boys’ VIP runner was awarded to Pacific League champion Arcadia senior Phillip Rocha, who last year claimed third, with a time 15:14.14 in the Championship Race. Rocha has already shown his strength this year by winning the impressive Stanford Invitational on Sept. 26 running 14:32.5, more than 30 seconds ahead of the other runners.
The race began with the runners sprinting the first 250 yards, heading around the first bend and returning to the trail that headed around the backside of the park. Unfortunately only two of the Falcon teams were able to push through the pack to gain a solid position. Approaching the first mile mark, Apache Rocha ran a planned 4:43 pace with Davis’ Michael Vernau, with Reed Brown of Southlake at his heels. Falcon lead runner Philip Thomas carried himself well and posted 4:48 in 17th place while teammate Colin FitzGerald ran 4:53 in 41st.
When the leaders hit the 2.1-mile mark it was Rocha again running a relaxed 10:16 clustered by four others. CV lead man Thomas posted 10:42 in 19th and FitzGerald trailed at 10:46 in 28th.
While the final loop and straight away sprint finish proved to be a little tough for some of the athletes, Rocha appeared not to have a concern, looking strong to finish first with an impressive time 14:58 followed by Madera South’s Eduardo Herrera (15:01.0). CV’s FitzGerald closed the gap between him and teammate Thomas on the final turn to capture 25th (15:50.5), then Thomas in 30th (15:52.6).
“I thought we ran well,” said CVHS Head Coach Mark Evans. “Boys were 14th in the sweepstakes race and 14th overall. We ran a slightly faster team time than we ran last year. We are in a good place right now. We competed well.”
Overall team standings: Great Oak took first place followed by Dana Hills, Jesuit, Martin Luther King and Madera South.
The Falcon girls decided to run the varsity Division 1 race rather than the open sweepstakes race of the day. Runners took to the trails just after lunch as temperatures climbed into the 90s. The Falcons welcomed back Rebecca Mencia and Grace McAuley who were MIA in recent weeks. The pair did well and posted 6:03 at the first mile (42nd) with teammate Elizabeth Hart posting 6:29 (116th), Emily Perkins 6:47 (164th), Hanna Leines 6:50 (176th), and So Jeong Kang 6:59 (195th).
At the 2.1-mile mark McAuley posted 13:49 (36th), and Mencia was 50th (13:56). Hart posted 15:03 (129th), then Perkins 15:17 (153rd), Kang 15:37 (170th) and Leines 15:38 (172nd).
Finishing strong was McAuley in 34th (20:27.7), Mencia in 43rd (20:39.7), Hart in 115th (22:22.3), Perkins 124th (22:29.0), Kang 164th (23:30.7) and Leines 167th (23:40.7). The Falcon girls’ team placed 19th in their race.
Head Coach Mark Evans was pleased with his girls. “We competed well. The girls ran well in the heat. It was tough … just good solid performances on the day.”
Overall team standings: Redondo Union first followed by Madera South, Edison, Martin Luther King and Newbury Park.