For many years, Sage Hill High's girls' cross-country program has been a lock to make the CIF Southern Section's postseason meets.
That is not likely to change, especially with Lightning coach Nate Miller working with one of his most experienced groups.
On Tuesday, Sage Hill put its competing seven on the starting line in the Academy League cluster race, but there was a new member in their ranks, one who has shot straight to the top of the class.
Most importantly, this newcomer has gained the respect of her peers. It seems that team strife will cease to exist, at least in the case of the Lightning's senior transfer from Iowa, Brooklyn Button.
"She has a great attitude, and she is a great worker," Miller said of Button. "She was actually elected as captain after only being on the team for two weeks, so the girls really respect her. She's been awesome."
Button is leading the returning core of Ashton Carroll, Alice Warden, Maya Jaffe and Hannah Ren.
In the Academy League cluster meet at Cerritos Regional Park, Button ran 18 minutes 48 seconds to take second. Her time was just 10 seconds off the pace set by San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's Andi Carnell.
Sage Hill is No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 rankings and ninth in the CIF State Division 5 polls. Still, it will be difficult for the Lightning to secure victory at every turn, as St. Margaret's is ranked ahead of them. The Tartans are third in the section and seventh in the state.
St. Margaret's topped Sage Hill 27-33 at the league cluster meet. The teams were separated by 51 seconds on total team time.
"It gives us some motivation for the end of the year," Miller said of the manageable six-point margin. "We'll see them many more times. We'll see them at obviously our league meets, Orange County [Championships], and CIF."
"We'll be rivals all year long, and they're a very good team."
Fountain Valley's girls appear well-positioned to repeat as Sunset League champion, as the Barons' lead pack occupied the first four spots in the Sunset League Preview at Central Park on Wednesday.
Sara Feitz paced the group in 18:59, with Ashley Faller (19:01), Maddie Jahshan (19:03) and Julia Svartstrom (19:05) falling in line.
Fountain Valley beat Los Alamitos 22-67. Marina was third with 72 points, Edison was fourth with 85 points, Newport Harbor was fifth with 101 points, and Huntington Beach was sixth with 152 points.
Edison's Avery Dorff (fifth, 19:13), Newport Harbor's Isa Glassen (ninth, 19:44) and Marina's Melissa Mendez (10th, 19:47) secured top 10 finishes.
In the boys' meet, Newport put three runners in the top 10, but Los Alamitos put all seven starters in the top 14, as the Griffins came away with a 44-52 victory.
Sailors junior Alexis Garcia won the race in 15:23. Teammates Luke Downing and Mikael Campo placed sixth and 10th, respectively.
Huntington Beach's Lars Mitchel (15:46) and Fountain Valley's Marc Tadros (15:56) rounded out the top three. Marina's Luke Sutherland was fifth in 16:07.
Edwin Montes, David Brito, Humberto Molina, Parker Walpole and Jason St. Pierre claimed the first five positions in Ocean View's 15-45 win over Segerstrom in a Golden West League dual meet at Irvine's Mason Park on Thursday.
Bella Brannon, the Seahawks' top girls' runner, was not permitted to compete due to knee pain that flared up in Tuesday's practice. Ocean View fell 23-32 with Micayla Shook leading the team at 19:46 for fourth.