The Laguna Hills boys’ cross-country team received some extra incentive on its way to the Southern Section Division III-AA championship and a State-meet berth Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
This season, the Hawks have adopted a new attitude and a new look, including black-and-yellow T-shirts that have a slogan on the back: “Hey, ho, let’s go!” So it was a shock to some of the team members when they rounded a corner Saturday and found a large banner saying: “HEY, HO, I DON’T THINK SO.”
The Hawks were warming up when the banner greeted them at the bottom of Reservoir Hill--and it was all they needed to get even more fired up.
Senior Chris Lynch, who led the Hawks by placing third in 15 minutes 47 seconds over the hilly three-mile course, said the sign made him angry and that his team suspected a member of Newbury Park’s team was responsible for it. And instead of tearing it down, the Hawks used it to psyche up.
The result was a 53-62 victory over Newbury Park in III-AA. Laguna Hills, which ran in the combined III-A and III-AA race, also advanced to the State Division III race as the section’s No. 1 team by finishing first overall with 102 points. Corona del Mar was second with 114, San Marino third (116) and Newbury Park fourth (117).
The top four overall teams in each of the four divisions (I-IV) and the top five individuals who were not on a state-qualifying team advanced to the State meet Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Senior Dave Burnette was eighth for Laguna Hills in 16:19. Teammates Rick Stevens (19th, 16:47), Jeff Zettel (26th, 16:57) and Aaron Winger (46th, 17:27) rounded out the top five.
Saturday’s race marked the second time in four years the Hawks have qualified for State. Lynch was the No. 5 runner on the 1988 team that placed 10th. Laguna Hills had never won a section title before Saturday, its best finish being third last year.
“I’ve been waiting 12 years for this one,” said Laguna Hills Coach Kevin Dempsey, who has coached the Hawks for that long. “I figured this to be a three-point meet one way or the other. Lynch and Burnette came in exactly where I expected, and I kept my fingers crossed for our 3, 4 and 5 runners.”
As is their trademark, the Hawks started out slowly and picked off runners as the race progressed. Dempsey wanted to avoid a repeat of last year’s race, when Lynch went out quickly and dropped from fifth to 62nd in the last 100 yards because of exhaustion, costing the Hawks a state berth.
“Last year, he (Lynch) was just devastated at the finish,” Dempsey said. “We were really counting on qualifying, and we didn’t make it. No one was blaming Lynch, but he blamed himself.”
In the girls’ competition, Edison’s Shelley Taylor had the fastest time of the day, winning the Division II race in 17:29, the sixth-fastest three-mile time in section-meet history. Taylor and Sunny Hills sophomore Carrie Garritson ran together until just past the one-mile mark, when Taylor opened a lead on the Switchbacks hill. Garritson was second in 18:20.
With 22 points, Edison won the II-AA title over Claremont, which had 72. Teammates Jennifer Formosa (third among team runners, 19:13), Janna Evans (seventh, 19:43), Jeannie Formosa (eighth, 19:48) and Danielle Eldridge (15th, 20:10) rounded out the Chargers’ top five.
“I was totally shocked she (Garritson) wasn’t strong on the hills,” said Taylor, who advanced to her fourth State meet. “I was still expecting her to pass me on the Switchbacks.”
In the Division III girls’ race, Laguna Hills (III-AA) defeated Newbury Park, 27-48, to win its first championship and Newport Harbor (III-A) beat San Marino, 45-74. The Sailors, who were led by seniors Donna Mills (second, 19:12) and Mary Crane (third, 19:12) advanced as the section’s No. 1 team; Laguna Hills was second.
Eleven Orange County teams qualified for the State meet. Among the boys’ teams were Mission Viejo (II-AA) and La Habra (II-A). Among the girls were Irvine (I-A), El Modena (II-A), Woodbridge (II-A) and Orange Lutheran (IV-AA). Mission Viejo, La Habra, Irvine, El Modena were Southern Section champions. In the boys’ Division I race, Esperanza placed third with 79 points behind top-ranked Hart (37) and Buena (62). Esperanza was fifth overall, missing State by seven points. Favored county teams Saddleback (ninth) and Santa Ana Valley (12th) finished behind the Aztecs. . . . Individual qualifiers included: Mike Love and Mike Moreno of Katella, Ryan Wilkinson of Santa Margarita, Adam Ripley of Laguna Beach, Tanja Brix of University, Kim Nelson of Anaheim, Katy Eklof and Denisha Bendz of Costa Mesa and Kendra Carter of Laguna Beach.