By Leonard COUTIN
An estimated 10,000 spectators and coaches lined the Woodward Park course in Clovis on Saturday to witness over 2,000 of the state’s top high school runners at the 29th CIF State Cross Country Championship.
Woodward Park has been the site of the finals since 1987, the location allowing the northern and southern competitors to meet at California’s mid-point to participate in one of the finest cross-country meets assembled. The meet features 10 divisional races broken into five boys and girls events. The Woodward Park course is 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) and offers various kinds of running terrain; open grass areas, asphalt and dirt trails, one steep hill and the final straightaway that concludes at a large open grass meadow challenging the runners to sprint the final 200-meters to the finish line.
The CIF state cross-country meet ranks as one of the most pivotal running events for a high school athlete. Among those competing was Crescenta Valley High School sophomore Colin FitzGerald. Although FitzGerald qualified as an individual, his team showed their support by traveling the long distance to cheer him on.
At the starting line, FitzGerald knew he needed to get out fast and strong to not lose contact with the frontrunners. He moved up well in the pack, maintaining a strong pace running his first mile in 4:45 and his second mile at approximately 10:39. FitzGerald finished in 15:39.1 to capture 23rd place.
“Colin had a great race,” said CVHS Head Coach Mark Evans. “His time was 11 seconds faster than at the Clovis Invite. He was the second fastest sophomore in the race and the sixth fastest sophomore on the day and 67th fastest overall among all the races. It was a great experience and he really competed well.”
It was no surprise to see Arcadia all-star Phillip Rocha taking the lead of the pack right from the start in the Division 1 contest. With poise and control he asserted command over the entire race. Having the experience of running state three years, his goal Saturday was to take home the gold for the second time in record time. Winning last year with a time of 14:58, Rocha wanted to finish his high school career with a mark in the record books.
Approaching the two-mile mark, Rocha looked relaxed and on target to a possible record time. Rounding the last curve then heading down the straightaway, spectators sensed they were seeing something historical. Rocha, midway into the final stretch, shifted gears and sprinted to a record time of 14:42.9 tying his former teammate and Arcadia graduate Ammar Moussa.
The Arcadia boys’ team took ninth in the overall team standings. Burroughs came in 12th.
The Arcadia faced the top ranking team from Great Oak. Apache Holly Lung led the squad scoring 10th (17:53.5) with her teammates Jasmine He taking 14th (18:09.8), Erica Yamane 27th (18:37.7), Cindy Hoang 31st (18:44.9) and Joy Huang 37th (18:47.8). Arcadia captured the third place team championship title behind Great Oak in first and Davis.
Emily Virtue of Burroughs, who ran individually, had one of her all time best performances to finish sixth (17:39.0). Sophomore Katherine Scoville of La Cañada took 10th in the Division 4 girls’ state champion race (18:30.19).
The Flintridge Prep High School has been the state defending champions for both the boys and girls teams in Division V. Coming off an outstanding season, the boys have been led by senior Jack Van Scoter who had one of his most competitive races at the state finals against St. Joseph Notre Dame’s Teare Cooper. Throughout the course these two battled side-by-side into the final finish of the race. Cooper edged Scoter out at the finish with a forward lean; both were clocked at the same time. Cooper took the win at 15:07.30 with Scoter placing second (15.07.30). The Flintridge team second lead man Nikhil Poole scored sixth (15:58.30) ahead of teammates Jonathan Vahala (16:19.10) in seventh, Rab Moran 12th (16:23.90) and Sham Patel 16th (16:50.30). Wining with a low score of 67 points, Flintridge Prep took home another state title. Boys team scores were Flintridge Prep in first followed by Marin Academy, Desert Christian Lancaster, Woodcrest Christian and Xavier College Prep.
The Flintridge girls’ team also scored a championship win. They were led by sophomore Sophie Gitlin who took seventh (18:41.70). Teammate Natalie O’Brien placed eighth (18:54.60). Teammate freshman Sasha Codiga placed 11th (19:13.60), Maia Cohen 20th (19:34.00), Jenna Mijares 21st (19:35.00) and Gabriella Bennett 29th (20:13.80).
Scoring 67 points the girls won another state championship title.
Now that the CIF state cross-country competition has ended, many of the athletes are turning their attention to the nationals. On Saturday, Dec. 5, the 37th Annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships for the west region, sponsored by Oasics, will be hosted on the Mt. SAC legendary cross-country course. Races will be starting as early as 7:10 a.m. for the open. Junior high continues approximately every 30 minutes. The boys and girls seeded races, which will qualify runners for the nationals, will be at 11:15 a.m. for girls and 11:50 a.m. for boys. The top 10 finishers in each of the seed races will qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals held in San Diego on Dec. 12.