Irvine, a girls' cross-country team that finished eighth in Orange County, won the State Division I championship Saturday, upsetting nationally ranked Palos Verdes Peninsula and Agoura.
Irvine junior Jessica Corbin finished third in 18 minutes 14 seconds on the three-mile course at Woodward Park, and the Vaqueros edged Peninsula, 85-87. Perennial power Agoura faded to fifth.
"This feels so great," Corbin said.
"No one expected us to even make it to (the Southern Section preliminaries) and definitely not to State."
Other Orange County champions were the Edison girls in Division II, the Santa Margarita girls in Division III and Buena Park senior Carrie Garritson, who won the Division II race in 18:04, the second-fastest girls' time of the meet.
But it was Irvine, a team that had been all but written off earlier this season, that pulled off the meet's most stunning victory.
After being ranked as high as seventh nationally in Harrier Magazine, the Vaqueros lost senior Alison Livermore, then their fourth runner, to a sciatic nerve injury and finished a dismal eighth in the Orange County Championships.
But when Livermore returned, the Vaqueros surged, finishing third in the Sea View League finals and second in the section Division I-A race, earning the section's fourth and final invitation to State.
As it turned out, the three-hundred mile drive was well worth the trip. Coach Randy Rossi's squad outran Agoura and Peninsula, teams that handily defeated them the weekend before in the section finals.
"They last thing I told them before the race was, 'If you don't respond to the challenges you face, no one will ever remember you,' " said a teary-eyed Rossi, who vowed to let the team shave his head if it won.
Freshman Stacey McMullen and sophomore Erin Livermore finished together in 19:03 in 15th and 16th, but it was the senior duo of Jenn Gillis and Alison Livermore (41st and 42nd overall) that iced the title for the Vaqueros.
"This was just a great race," Alison Livermore said.
"We just decided that we were going to have fun no matter what happened today."
Santa Margarita also took a roundabout path to a title.
Winners of the Sea View finals, but losers in dual meets and in the section Division III finals to Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor, the Eagles won the school's first-ever State title behind freshman Katie Nuanes (fourth place in 18:37) and senior Amy Gomez (seventh in 18:40).
"There was really no pressure on us at all," Santa Margarita Coach Cindy Schaaf said.
"We never even talked about winning, just having fun at the end of the year."
The Eagles had 80 points, beating Clayton Valley (85) and Oakland Bishop O'Dowd (112). Corona del Mar finished fourth (126) and Newport Harbor fifth (136).
Edison, top-ranked in Orange County and State Division II, made up for a third-place finish in last year's State meet, running away from second-place Canyon, 104-121. Junior Elyse Homberger (19th in 19:13), and sophomore Kerry O'Bric (21st in 19:17) led the Chargers, winners of the Sunset League and county championships this season, to their second title in three years.
"We did the same thing we've been doing all year," Edison Coach Kristi McGihon said.
"I never know what order our top five girls are going to come in."
Garritson ran away from her competitors early and never looked back during her victory. Kim Nelson of Canyon was fourth in 18:25.
In the boys' races, Orange senior Jaime Martinez and Santa Ana's team had the best performances by locals.
Martinez, the winner of the county championships, finished second, 16 seconds behind San Diego's Mebrahtom Keflezighi, running 15:18 in the Division I race.
Santa Ana, top-ranked in the county, finished second (88 points) to Thousand Oaks (23 points) in Division I team competition. Senior Juan Zaragoza finished 13th in 15:40 to lead the Saints.