It may not happen now, but this week in cross-country will inevitably become the subject of hot debate at year’s end.
Various coaching approaches have begged the question of just how much the Orange County Championships should be considered in the awarding of All-County honors.
Tradition says that the midseason meet carries great weight in those discussions, but there are always late bloomers who become competitive at the end of the season.
With those different schools of thought in play, the reporters’ plea is that everyone competes to the best of their ability. The Orange County Championships is one of few opportunities to see most local schools compete on the same course under similar conditions.
Not unlike end-of-year honors, the quest for county glory in the sweepstakes races is not often won by a dark horse. Those who have proven themselves as a model of consistency generally validate that assessment.
Since this point last year, no one has been more consistent among coastal cities distance runners than Newport Harbor High’s Alexis Garcia. As a sophomore, he snuck up on the field to take second in the boys’ sweepstakes race.
Dana Hills’ Jack Landgraf won that title in 14 minutes 53 seconds at Irvine Regional Park. A new course, seen by few, has presented a potentially problematic variable. Race leaders run the risk of getting lost on a course they are unfamiliar with.
“The O.C. Champs course will be a mystery to everyone, which should make for a fun race,” Sailors coach Nowell Kay said of the meet being held at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado.
When the CIF Southern Section moved its postseason meets from Mt. San Antonio College to the Riverside City Cross-Country Course, a video of the course was provided via a drone flyover to help prepare the competitors.
Oak Canyon Park is a private park. For many of the schools partaking in the Orange County Championships, Friday will be the first time they have seen the course.
The course has changed, but Landgraf and Garcia are still major players. Newport Harbor’s camp is encouraged by the results of the Clovis Invitational, which took place last weekend on the state championship course in Fresno’s Woodward Park.
Garcia ran 15:24, besting his personal record on the course by 23 seconds. The junior did not run head-to-head against Landgraf, but the Dolphins senior ran 15:48 in the sweepstakes race.
“I think Alexis was happy to see that he beat both Landgraf from Dana, who was in the sweepstakes, as well as beating the JSerra kids (Anthony Grover and Peter Herold) straight-up in our race,” Kay said. “It was definitely a confidence boost.”
Newport Harbor is joined by Ocean View as the local teams participating in the boys’ sweepstakes race. The Seahawks will be running in the race for the second straight year.
Although last year’s team may have been deeper, Seahawks coach Daniel Hurtado says that the experience of getting over the hump in making the CIF Division 3 finals last November has made his team tougher mentally.
“The two that are returning (Edwin Montes and David Brito) and the other guys that are varsity now that were alternates for all the events, they already know,” Hurtado said. “They’ve been there.”
“The expectations are there because they have lived them. Nothing is completely new. They expect to be in those races and do better than they did last year.”
Ocean View was an underdog in its Golden West League dual meet with a Santa Ana team that had restocked well with its freshman class. The battle-tested Seahawks came away with a 27-28 victory, coming from behind in the final 300 meters.
Humberto Molina, Parker Walpole and Miguel Flores surpassed the Saints’ fifth runner, Brandon Palacios, in that span.
The criteria for a small school (Divisions 3-5) to compete in the sweepstakes race is that it must be ranked in the top 15 in Orange County. Ocean View is 15th after its win versus Santa Ana.
Ninth-ranked Fountain Valley leads the area’s girls’ cross-country teams. The defending Sunset League champions won their league preview meet, as Sara Feitz, Ashley Faller, Maddie Jahshan and Julia Svartstrom came across as the top four finishers.
Corona del Mar currently sits at 14th in the county (ranked by PrepCalTrack). Freshman Annabelle Boudreau has posted wins in the Laguna Hills Invitational, the Sunny Hills/Wayne Walker Invitational and the Pacific Coast League Cluster.
Ocean View’s girls are also in the sweepstakes. Adriana Gil paced the Seahawks in their dual meet with Santa Ana, placing third in 20:16.
The top-ranked teams in Orange County possess the defending individual champions. On the boys’ side, Landgraf and Dana Hills will be the favorite. Haley Herberg and Capistrano Valley lead the contenders in the girls’ sweepstakes.
It all makes for an exciting weekend of distance running, that is, if Mother Nature does not interfere.
“With the fires, hopefully the race does not get canceled," Costa Mesa coach Steve Moreno said.
51st Orange County Championships
Where: Oak Canyon Park (5305 Santiago Canyon Road, Silverado, CA 92676)
When: Friday, first race at 3 p.m.; Saturday, first race at 8 a.m.
Fan Info: It is $15 to enter Oak Canyon Park on both days. There is no charge for school buses. Championships T-shirts will be sold for $15 and up.