By Leonard COUTIN
More than 19,000 runners representing 500 schools participated in the world’s largest cross-country invitational last weekend – the Mt. SAC Invitational held in Walnut. Over its 66 years, this legendary course has provided athletes with the chance to compete against some of the top runners outside their area.
The course consists of immediate flat surfaces, switch backs trails and an up hill climb to the top of the first mountain with a downhill run to the second hill (referred to as “Poop-Out”) and the final ascent to Reservoir Hill, a double- sided hill, ending with a 800m dash down the runway to the finish line. This course has gained national respect and is enjoyed by both high school and college athletes.
Among the strong competitors were Sarah Baxter from Simi Valley who attacked the course, running 66 seconds in front of the pack to deliver to the crowd a historical record day. Baxter smashed the course record last year and set what was termed the unbelievable mark – 16:00 – coming up just seconds short as she sprinted the final leg of the course. She earned the title of the first four-year Mt. SAC championship winner.
For Falcon Gabe Collison, his strategy was simple: go out strong and bring it home the same way. Battling huge numbers, he hit the first mile in fourth place on his way over to the second half of the course. Rival Philip Roche of Arcadia moved alongside Collison at the last 800m. Making his way towards the finish, Collison earned himself fifth place running 15:02. Rocha took the lead for his team, securing second place (14:51). CV captured 11th in team standings, while Arcadia took first in the team sweepstakes race No. 73.
“I am happy with the performances,” said CV Coach Mark Evans. “Gabe ran a strategically good race. He is trying to be a bit more patient and move at the end.”
The Falcon girls had its challenges without teammate Erika Johnson running varsity race No. 66. Megan Melnyk continued to lead her team keeping her eye on the CIF finals.
Immediately joining the front-runners, Melnyk gave chase working hard to keep up with the lead runners. Concentrating on retaining her position, Melnyk pushed herself hard on the backside of the course to run one of her best races on the Mt. SAC course posting fourth (18:32).
“I wish my time was faster, but I was glad to race hard,” said Melynk. Coach Evans said, “Megan ran well. [The] last few races were much better. Lots of improved performances.”
The CV girls took sixth place in team standings. Ventura took first. Coach Evans also noted that Philip Thomas had a great race in the JV championship competition.
In other Mt. SAC news, Bobby Thomas (who now has a son running at CV) was listed again this year in the Mt. SAC Cross Country Hall of Fame. A 1994 inductee from Glendale Community College, Thomas set the four-mile Mt. SAC course record (19:33) at the invitational in addition to other noteworthy races. He went on to win, the national cross-country and IAAF junior cross country championships that were held in Morocco.
Other Pacific conference winners were the Arcadia girls who took fourth place in the girls’ individual sweepstakes race No. 70. Leading Apache Veronica Yamane posted fourth (17:26). Burbank boys in varsity race No. 59 captured a first place team victory. Coach Darin Wolfe said he was glad to see the hard work his athletes were doing paid off. Burbank lead runner Elliot Choe grabbed third place (15:30) with teammate Arsen Mkrtchyan taking fourth (15:31).