Every year high school cross-country teams prepare for the challenges presented by the hilly course at Mt. San Antonio College — the site of the CIF Southern Section Division Finals — to improve their chances of advancing to the CIF State Meet.
All that training was for naught this season because of rain Friday night and some light drizzle on the day of the Division Championships on Saturday, which pushed the event onto an alternate course that's flat and mostly paved.
While some runners favored the switch, it spelled disaster and an end to the 2012 season for every local but Newport Harbor's Paige Tennison.
"I was focused on running Mt. SAC, the actual course," Tennison said. "I wanted to beat my time really bad from last year and I'm disappointed I didn't get a chance to do that because I feel like I was ready."
The senior standout was the only Sailor to advance to the Division Final and was certainly not flustered by the late change, which was announced just about an hour before the first race of the day, as she calls the rain course one of her favorites in cross-country.
Tennison proceeded to win the girls' Division II race easily, edging second-place finisher Samantha Ortega of Saugus by 13 seconds, as the lone Newport Harbor representative crossed the line in 16 minutes 13 seconds.
Tennison couldn't make up her mind on whether or not it was a surprise to win the way she did.
"I expected to have more competition in the second loop," she said, "and I was surprised some of the other girls started dropping off, but I've been working really hard so I guess it's not that surprising."
Tennison was the only local to advance to the CIF State Meet, which is at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 24. Her gameplan for the final cross-country meet of her career will be simple.
"Well, I mean, go big or go home," she said. "Of course, I want to win — it's my senior year."
It was a disappointing end to the season for all the teams that missed out on the top-seven cut to State, but it was especially heartbreaking for the Corona del Mar and Sage Hill boys' teams.
Both the Sea Kings and Lightning finished eighth in their respective divisions, seeing their bids for a trip to State dashed by just about a handful of points each.
Corona del Mar Coach Bill Sumner was surprised CIF decided to switch to Mt. SAC's rain course Saturday.
"The nightmare is you train and train and train and you know you're going to end up at Mt. SAC … and you train for that Mt. SAC course and they change the course," Sumner said. "There's times when you have to change the course, but they didn't have to do that today. It wasn't that wet. It was a quick, quick call."
Corona del Mar (213) did a great job of packing its top-three, but missed out on State by 13 points. Oak Park was the final team to stamp its tickets in Division III with 200 points.
Reid Meckler (29th, 14:52), Teddy Parks (31st, 14:54) and Spencer Keith (33rd, 14:56) gave the Sea Kings a shot at State, as the trio crossed the finish line in a four-second window, but Corona del Mar had a lot to overcome after two Eagles rounded out the top-five individual finishers.
Greg May (69th, 15:30) and Ethan Hold (82nd, 15:46) concluded the scoring for the Sea Kings.
"We had three guys under 15 [minutes] so that's huge, but it comes down to the four and five guy," said Parks, whose team came in ranked 10th in Division III. "Bottom line is we're ranked right above the seven spots who make State, so it's everyone try to have the race of your lives because it's going to be close."
Sage Hill's top-four also packed well, as they all finished within a 14-second span, in the first race of the day. It still wasn't enough to outdo Desert Christian, which took the seventh spot in Division V with 187 points.
"Our goal was to be in that top-seven today," Sage Hill Coach Nate Miller said. "I'm proud of how the guys ran, but it just wasn't our best day and we had some injury problems. They came at a bad time of the year."
The Lightning (199) were 12 points behind with Chris Andras (15:53) and Cameron Knollenberg (15:55) leading the way at 34th and 35th, respectively. Dylan Thies (16:05) and Ryan Fishel (16:07) took 42nd and 43rd for Sage Hill, which had Alexis Michaca (16:44) finish 73rd.
While Costa Mesa High also came close to advancing before finishing 10th in Division IV, the experience alone was something to celebrate.
The Mustangs had a good shot at keeping its season alive after Brett Bermudez (17th, 15:10) and Dakota Alford (22nd, 15:15) placed in the top 25. Costa Mesa finished with 246 points — 33 behind seventh-place Harvard Westlake — with Jorge Jeronimo (53rd, 15:46), Anuare Magana (65th, 15:59) and David Alcala (109, 17:29) scoring.
"The team making it here [is] the first time ever, so this is already history," Bermudez said. "There definitely was nerves the entire week leading up to this. None of us have gone this far before, so it's all something new to us."
The Sea Kings also finished 10th as a team in Division III girls competition. They finished with 233 points, just 16 behind No. 7 La Cañada (217).
Corona del Mar's top finisher Lilly Schmidt (34th, 17:51) just cracked the top 35 and the rest of the Sea Kings weren't too far behind with their final four scorers — Kirsten Hansen (45th, 18:09), Hannah Crane (55th, 18:25) Elin Wolker (59th, 18:31) and Darcie Marshall (69th, 18:48) — finishing within 40 seconds of each other.
Although it was a disappointing end to the season, Sumner said he was proud of both his teams Saturday.
"I would have liked to show them next week's stage," he said in reference to State. "We've been to Fresno like 23 years in a row and this is the first year we won't be going with one team or another. That day has to come."
Sage Hill's girls took 12th in Division V with Lili Mora (28th, 18:52) and Sophia Witte (35th, 19:08) both finishing the top 35 for the Lightning, which had 269 points with Brittany Andressoo (72nd, 20:24), Alyssa Anderson (74th, 20:25) and Coral Lee (80th, 20:40) scoring.