By Leonard COUTIN
he Falcon boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams faced some of their most challenging races at the championship CIF finals held on the Mt. SAC course over the weekend. Spectators of the Division 1 teams saw some of the most talented athletes in Southern California compete and it was no surprise new team records were set and standings were broken.
Loyola’s Robert Brandt led the first mile with Arcadia Apache Phillip Rocha close by. Falcons Manav Vat and Colin FitzGerald ran with the second group.
Brandt was the first runner down toward the airstrip with Rocha at his heels but as the lead runners pushed the first and second mile times, it was Arcadia’s stellar runner Rocha who conquered the last mile to win first place (14:35) followed by Brandt (14:46) and Jake Ogden of Dana Hills (14:52).
The team from John Burroughs had the largest number of runners placing in the top 20. The Indians’ lead man Garret Boularis finished 11th (15:16), with Elias Hoxsie taking 15th (15:19), Shane Thompson 17th (15:23), Alexander Hirsch 19th (15:26) and Andrew Barrondo 23rd (15:33). Burroughs won the team award.
The Falcons runners’ strategy was to stay close to each other to score solid team points. Vats ended 30th running 15:43 with teammates Collin FitzGerald placing 35th (15:47), Jason Crosthwaite 42nd (15:41), Silas FitzGerald 65th (16:09), Armin Cardenas-Nuno 68th (16:10) Kyle Dickinson 81st and Robert McNelis 111th (16:55). The Falcons missed advancing by a single point, scoring eighth rather than the top seven.
“The boys really came together at the end of the season with two very good races at prelims and finals,” said CVHS Coach Mark Evans. “It is tough to miss making state by one place let alone by one point. [Ending] up eighth … is a great accomplishment and demonstrates the dedication and hard work this team put in.”
For the first time in nine years the Arcadia team will not advance, however, individually, Rocha will move forward.
In team scoring, Burroughs placed first (70), followed by Dana Hills (91), Great Oak (123), Poly – Long Beach (174), Loyola (180), M.L. King (209), Warren (215), Crescenta Valley (216), Arcadia (216) and California (229).
The Falcons girls came into the finals knowing that they were not ranked to advance unless they had some exceptional performances. Seniors Haley Witzeman and Megan Melnyk felt the weight again upon their shoulders and knew their teammates needed to be mentally prepared to meet the challenges of the course.
Great Oak’s Destiny Collins and teammate Kiyena Beatty took control the first mile, trying to keep Burbank’s Candela Fernandez at bay while they made their way around the course. The Great Oak team had the most runners in the top 20 places as they moved back onto the airstrip heading into the last mile. Falcons Witzeman and Melnyk were a little off their personal best time running with the second group heading to Reservoir Hill and the final loop. Witzeman said later that her personal strategy was to hold back on the hills to reserve her energy for the last 300-yard sprint to the finish line.
The first runner on the airstrip was Great Oak’s Collins (17:21) followed by teammate Beatty (17:31). Running third was Burbank’s Fernandez (17:32). Witzeman, who worked her plan, realized that she had come up a little short and placed 28th (18:48) failing to make the top 20. Melnyk scored 32nd (18:57). Other Falcons included Rebecca Mencia who placed 92nd (20:05), Elizabeth Hart 98th (20:17), Annie Myers 99th (20:20) and Samantha Bernardo 111th (20:50).
“I am proud of how both the boys and girls did. It was an indication of their hard work and dedication that both groups were able to qualify for CIF finals,” said Evans. “This is a tough race with 16 very good teams competing. The girls struggled a bit and did not run quite as well as at prelims but they still competed well. I was not sure at the beginning of the season if we had the depth to make finals … [but] they really came through and had a great season.”
From the Arcadia Apache girls’ team Holy Lung was the lead runner placing 13th (18:08); teammate Joy Huang placed 38th (19:00), Cindy Hoang 39th (19:00), Eryca Yamane 44th (19:06) and Madison Ross 51st (19:13).
Burbank girls did not qualify to advance but individually Fernandez will move forward.
Final team scores showed Great Oak in first (20), followed by Yucaipa (98), Arcadia (155), Trabuco Hills (170), Poly (172), Vista Murrieta (185), Roosevelt (190), Dana Hills (223), Warren (235) and in 10th Newbury Park (260). CV placed 13th (317).