Newport Harbor High’s Alexis Garcia was bold in forming his wish list for his junior year.
In the offseason, he determined the two things he hoped to achieve for the upcoming fall sports season. He wanted to place in the top 10 at the CIF State cross-country championships, and he also hoped to solidify his place as the area’s top runner.
Who could be so bold? Only the reigning Daily Pilot Boys’ Cross-Country Dream Team Runner of the Year.
Garcia topped his sterling sophomore campaign, throwing down historic times and improving his placing on the biggest stages. For doing so, Garcia has earned the Daily Pilot’s Dream Team Runner of the Year honor for the second year in a row.
From start to finish this year, Garcia was a model of consistency. He placed in the top five of every CIF-sanctioned meet he competed in with the exception of the Orange County Championships, where he finished seventh.
The junior said he came back more motivated than ever because of rivalries that he had formed with the competition in previous years. In 2016, he had finished as the runner-up in the Orange County Championships to Dana Hills’ Jack Landgraf.
“There was the battle against Landgraf, and he was the [Orange County] Athlete of the Year last year,” Garcia said of how he looked forward to facing the Dolphins senior this past fall.
Garcia was third in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 final, coming across the finish line in 14 minutes 57.2 seconds. Of course, the Sailors star was quick to point out one of his main targets for the season ahead.
“There is this guy from Canyon,” Garcia said, speaking of the Division 2 champion, Ethan Danforth of Canyon Country Canyon. “He’s a junior. I have to beat him before thinking about going to NXN (Nike Cross Nationals).
“I have to beat my obstacles before thinking something big.”
The major titles have evaded Garcia, but he has shown the potential to win them. The week before JSerra’s Anthony Grover won the Orange County Championships, Garcia beat the Lions sophomore in winning their race at the Clovis Invitational.
Garcia defended his individual Sunset League crown with ease. His time of 15:12 was 27 seconds faster than Los Alamitos junior Kaleb Yemaneberhane.
As far as Newport Harbor boys’ cross-country history goes, Garcia has no equal. He set the school record for a three-mile course in running 14:27.8 at the Dana Hills Invitational. The previous record of 14:31 had been held by Jim Geerlings since 1987.
Garcia took fifth at the state meet in 15:26.2, earning all-state honors for Division II. Newport Harbor boys’ cross-country coach Nowell Kay said that Garcia is the school’s first boy to make it onto the podium since the Sailors won the Division III state title in 1992.
The honor is given to the top 10 individuals and the top three teams of each race at the state meet. Putting Garcia’s performance into context, Sky Peterka paced the Sailors in the 1992 state championship run, placing 11th in 16:03.
“I knew that it was going to be one of my best seasons,” Garcia said. “I knew that there was something that was telling me, ‘This is it. This is the year.’ So I kept working harder and harder.
“I broke the school record, and I became the first to make the podium [at state] since 1992.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
An encore performance of historic proportions landed Hurtado the honor of Daily Pilot Boys’ Cross-Country Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. After Ocean View ended a 33-year league title drought in 2016, the Seahawks added on to the recent run of success. Five seniors graduated from last year’s squad. It did not stop Ocean View, which repeated as Golden West League champion and advanced to its first CIF State championship meet in the history of the boys’ program. The Seahawks will graduate three runners from their inaugural state-qualifying team, as David Brito, Humberto Molina and Alex Hernandez were all seniors.
Ocean View | Sr.
Brito was one of two returners from the Ocean View team that fell one step short of the CIF State meet in 2016. The Seahawks senior went out on top, singing a redemption song in his final high school season by serving as the No. 2 runner for the program’s first state appearance. Brito improved his placing from his junior year by 17 spots in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final. He had five top-10 finishes this year, including a victory in the Division 3 senior race of the Dana Hills Invitational and a runner-up showing in the Golden West League finals.
Corona del Mar | Jr.
The Sea Kings had a junior-heavy group that took turns leading the pack. Cianfrani broke the 16-minute barrier five times, the most of a junior quartet that also included Duncan Taylor, Ian Turner and Joshua Means. His sixth-place performance (15:59.5) led the Sea Kings, as they edged Servite 76-78 in the small schools varsity race of the Orange County Championships. Cianfrani added top-three finishes in grade-level races at the Laguna Hills Invitational and the Sunny Hills Wayne Walker Invitational. He also placed fifth in the Pacific Coast League finals.
Huntington Beach | Jr.
When his brother, Alekos (running for Fresno State), graduated last year, it became Mitchel’s time to shine. He did exactly what his brother had done the year before, qualifying for the CIF postseason as an at-large selection out of the Sunset League. Mitchel claimed sixth in the race at Central Park, the last spot for an individual from a non-qualifying team to advance to CIF. The Oilers junior had a pair of runner-up performances. Those came in the Division 2 varsity race of the Orange County Championships and the Sunset League preview. He also improved upon his three-mile personal record for the first time since his freshman year, posting a time of 15:25.5 at the Dana Hills Invitational.
Ocean View | Jr.
Montes admitted during the season that he had fears about stepping into the spotlight. His ability to confront that was crucial for a Seahawks team that was desperate for leadership. The junior ace breathed belief into his team when he claimed his first Golden West League individual crown. In the process, the Seahawks repeated as league champions, besting rival Santa Ana by a thin margin of 27-31. Montes had five top-10 finishes, adding a second win in the Division 3 junior race of the Dana Hills Invitational. He placed 13th in both the CIF Southern Section Division 3 finals and the Division III race at the CIF State meet.
Fountain Valley | Sr.
The senior missed the first month of the season for a mandatory sit-out period after he transferred from Bolsa Grande High. He did not wait long to make his mark, claiming the top spot in the Division 2 varsity race of the Orange County Championships just two weeks after becoming eligible. Prado placed third in the Sunset League finals, advancing to the CIF Southern Section preliminaries in Division 1 as an individual. He produced his best three-mile time of the year in the postseason race on the Riverside City Cross-Country Course, clocking in at 15:28.5.
Laguna Beach | Jr.
Smithers was the surprise of the fall. In his first season as a cross-country runner, he burst onto the scene to become the Breakers’ ace. He won both the Orange Coast League cluster and the Orange Coast League finals. He ran a personal record of 15:28.4 in winning the league title on the flat, grassy course of Centennial Regional Park in Santa Ana. No one can question Smithers’ heart or hustle. He nearly ran himself to death at the CIF State meet, collapsing due to heat exhaustion upon crossing the finish line. Such an effort netted him an eighth-place finish in the Division IV race, making him one of two area runners to receive all-state honors. Smithers also led Laguna Beach’s second-place showing in the section’s Division 4 final, taking sixth in 15:41.5.
Marina | Sr.
Sutherland led a Vikings team that made its first CIF appearance since 2013. Marina was the second seed out of the Sunset League, overtaking Newport Harbor, which had won the league title the year before. Sutherland led the Vikings, taking seventh in 16:02. He posted another top-10 showing the following week in the Division 2 prelims, which earned him an at-large spot in the CIF finals. The Sunset League had a host of representatives at the top of the Division 2 varsity race in the Orange County Championships, as Sutherland joined Prado and Mitchel as the third-place finisher in the race.
Name, School, Year
Kevin Cortez, Costa Mesa, Jr.
Zachary Falkowski, Laguna Beach, Jr.
Cody Groom, Edison, Jr.
Luc La Montagne, Laguna Beach, Sr.
Luke Nataupsky, Sage Hill, Jr.
Duncan Taylor, Corona del Mar, Jr.