Cross-country has been one of the most successful sports among local high school teams for decades.
The programs at Burroughs, Burbank and Bellarmine-Jefferson have captured league championships, won a CIF Southern Section title and sent teams and individuals to state competition with regularity.
Unfortunately, Bell-Jeff won’t be able to add to his history after the school closed in June. However, the Guards’ cross-country legacy has survived — for at least one more season.
Bell-Jeff’s top runner from a year ago, Nick Montijo, has transferred to Providence and will be competing for the Pioneers. He won the Santa Fe League cross-country championship in 2017 and won league titles in the 800- and 1,600-meter races in track and field.
“It was a surprise when he came out for the first day,” Providence coach Michelle Boucher said. “I didn’t even know that he would be competing for us.”
Montijo will join Carissa Guardado to bolster the Pioneers squads.
At Burbank, the boys’ program looks like a strong contender after returning the core of its team and the girls could be up-and-comers.
For Burroughs, it lost some key runners to graduation, but should boast its share of young talent.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
Despite residing in elite Division I in the CIF Southern Section, the Bulldogs boys’ team looks to have the talent to do well in the Pacific League and beyond.
“Both the boys’ and girls’ teams have really stepped up this year in their preparation and training,” said Kathryn Nelson, who is co-coach along with Robert Hammel. “I have really been impressed with them and it’s a change in attitude, really. They were hard workers before, but this year there is just a different drive, a different motivation.
“It’s just about getting everybody on board and bringing some of the pride back to the program. We want to hearken back to the days of this program when there was a great deal of success.”
The Bulldogs should have a formidable 1-2 punch in junior Victor Goli and sophomore Andres Leon. They will be joined by juniors Dane Ellis, Anthony Chiaravalle, Taheh Shanazari and Steven Wright, along with senior Jahir Olvera.
“They have really rounded out,” Nelson said. “The bulk of them came in as freshmen and they have just continued to improve … We are expecting some great things from them. These guys really, really want it.”
On the girls’ side, Burbank will also have experience with its top two returners, junior Sol Fernandez and senior Shalom Mejia. Other key runners should inclide seniors Lydia Forsyth, Jamie Levin, Natalie Danao and Raquel Goli, along with sophomore Noela Kim.
Burbank, along with Burroughs, will take place in the inaugural Jeff Nelson Invitational at 9 a.m. Saturday at Griffith Park.
The Indians lost two top athletes to graduation after they advanced to the CIF State Championships in 2017 in Emily Virtue and Jagdeep Chahal. Chahal was also named the All-Area Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year and Burbank Leader Boys’ Athlete of the Year.
The boys’ program, which won a Southern Section Division title in 2014, also lost some contributing seniors to graduation.
On the boys’ side, returning for Burroughs will be seniors Raymond Berrellez and Carlos Ponce, along with sophomore Jimmy Nealis. Joining the mix are juniors Logan Berger, Isaac Flores, Robert McGraham and Dane Wright and seniors Peter Lainson, Johnny Padungyothee and Patrick Suarez.
“We are going to try to run only juniors and seniors on varsity this season, but that might be tough with the way [sophomore] Julius Largaespada, Nealis and [freshman] Xander Penaflor are running,” Burroughs coach John Peebles said.
Peebles added he is hoping his young squad will be able to pick up some experience this season.
“We do not have a lot of experience, so this year will definitely be a learning year for some of our younger runners,” Peebles said. “Raymond is looking very strong, so we hope that transitions into a strong season for him and that he brings others with him.”
For the girls, the team does return some seniors whom Peebles expects to lead the squad.
“I think senior leadership will be key on the girls side,” he said. “Our seniors will need to be leaders, both vocally and in terms of running. They have to be able challenge themselves and the younger girls in order to accomplish what they would like to accomplish.”
Returners with varsity experience include sophomores Jordan Guzman, Julianna Navarro and Jamie Perez-Fernandez, juniors Taylor Lombardo and Ceci Whitney and seniors Lakely Nealis and Vanessa Reveles.
Newcomers who could make an impact are sophomore Patrycja Maciak and freshman Sophia Navarro.
Boucher likes what she has seen so far with Montijo.
“Nick has been great, we talk frequently about the transition both with school and cross-country,” she said. “He challenges himself every day to get better and having him there challenges everyone else too.
“I am really looking forward to our meets this year.”
Because Bell-Jeff closed down, Montijo will not have to endure a sit-out period after transferring.
A pair of freshmen boys’ runners, Connor Flynn and Hunter Campen, could also bolster the squad.
For the Providence girls’ team, they have a decorated returner in junior Carissa Guardado. Last season, she won the Liberty League individual championship and placed 19th in the Division V championship in a personal-record time of 19 minutes, 16.3 seconds.
Though Guardado finished in the requisite top-20 spots needed to merit state at-large consideration, she finished 11th out of individual runners with the cutoff being at the top five.
“Carissa has just gotten better every year since she started with us,” Bouchard said. “She is back and she really has been committed. I expect her to have just another great year.
“She has natural talent, but a lot of what she has been able to accomplish has been a direct result of her hard work, her dedication and her passion for it.”
Another key runner for the team is expected to be sophomore Sandra Vargas.