Never had a runner from the City Section won a CIF state cross-country championship. But all that changed Saturday when senior Justin Hazell of El Camino Real won the Division I race in 15:03.8 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
“It was really nice crossing the line knowing I made history for a City runner,” said Hazell, who’s headed to the University of Portland.
“It was a long time coming — 30 years,” said Hal Harkness, the clerk of the course and a former City Section commissioner.
El Camino Real coach Jun Reichl, 28, one of the rising high school coaches in California and a former athlete at UCLA, had been training Hazell for this moment all season. Hazell even backed off last week at the City finals — which he won for a second consecutive year — saving himself for Saturday.
The strategy paid off. The nearest competitor was Colin Fitzgerald of Crescenta Valley. He finished second in 15:10.1.
“This meet was the objective, goal and our dream the whole season,” Reichl said. “To achieve it and be the state champion and the first ever from L.A. is surreal. It’s still soaking in.
“When I was cheering him during the race, we didn’t know what was going to happen because there was a huge pack at the mile. He just looked real relaxed and had been talking about running the last mile hard and he did exactly that. He won convincingly.”
Reichl said he never imagined a runner of Hazell’s caliber showing up so early in his coaching career.
“It was a big deal to make history. For him to pull it off, I can breathe again. I’m really lucky to get a kid like Justin. To get an athlete who is so focused and so determined as a young coach, I’m definitely blessed,” he said.
Said Hazell: “I’m excited but I don’t know if I’m more excited than him.”
Temecula Great Oak won the boys and girls team titles in Division I.
The best individual performance was turned in by junior Claudia Lane of Malibu in Division 4 girls. Lane shattered the course record, running 16:30.3 and making a case for being the No. 1 female runner in the nation.
West Torrance won the Division III boys title while L.A. Cathedral’s boys won in Division IV. Claremont’s girls won in Division II, with Haley Herberg of Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley winning the individual title in 17:00.0.