When it comes to predicting the Division I boys' and girls' team winners in the state cross-country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday, it would be prudent to say that a squad from the Southern Section will be victorious in each race.
Southern Section teams have won 15 of 16 Division I titles on both the boys' and girls' sides since the state championships began in 1987, and that domination is expected to continue Saturday. But while Chino Don Lugo is a logical pick to triumph over a boys' field that includes 22 other teams, the girls' race could be a tight competition between Ventura and Murrieta Valley.
Don Lugo, the No. 13-ranked boys' team in the nation by Harrier magazine, is undefeated since a season-opening loss to Murrieta Valley in the Bronco Invitational at Prado Regional Park in Chino.
The Conquistadores, led by junior Fitsum Tesfa, won the Irvine Woodbridge, Stanford and Mt. San Antonio College invitationals earlier this season. In addition, they posted a 69-126 victory over second-place and No. 22-ranked Simi Vally Royal in the Southern Section Division I final at Mt. SAC on Saturday with a performance that wasn't their best.
"If we run well, there's a good chance we're going to win," Don Lugo Coach Don Salyers said. "If we get beat, someone is going to have to run pretty darn well."
Ventura, the No. 15-ranked girls' team in the nation, ran a superb race in the Southern Section Division I final to upset No. 9 and previously unbeaten Murrieta Valley, 93-129.
Ventura's top six runners, led by senior Oriana Campbell, all ran career bests on the Mt. SAC course to enhance the reputation of Cougar Coach Bill Tokar as a master at peaking his runners at the end of the season.
Murrieta Valley will be without Karen Camburn, its No. 3 runner earlier this season, for the fourth consecutive meet because of shin splints. But Tokar says Ventura won't approach the state meet any differently because of that.
"The girls have focused all season on running their best [in the section] and [state championships]," Tokar said. "And that's still their main focus."
In the race for the individual titles, senior Rachel Bryan of Elk Grove Laguna Creek is favored to win her second consecutive girls' championship while senior Jeremy Mineau of Menlo Atherton and juniors Yosef Ghebray of Union City Logan, Brandon Bethke of Lake Forest El Toro and Dylan Jaedtke of Simi Valley Royal all appear capable of winning the boys' race.
Here's a brief look at the races in the other divisions.
* Division II: Bellflower St. John Bosco, Pleasant Hill College Park and defending champion Carmichael Jesuit should contend for the boys' team title with junior Mark Matusak of Los Angeles Loyola favored to win the individual championship. College Park and defending champion Hesperia Sultana will battle for the girls' title, and senior Caitlin Chock of Granite Bay is favored to win her second consecutive individual championship.
* Division III: Mountain View St. Francis and junior Jake Schmitt of Visalia Redwood are favored in the boys' race. Senior Lindsay Flacks of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake is picked to win the individual girls' title while Santa Margarita will try to upset Orinda Miramonte for the team championship.
* Division IV: Senior Mohamed Trafeh of Duarte, fresh off his course-record tying effort in the Southern Section championships, is favored to win his second consecutive individual boys' title. Oak Park is expected to contend for its second consecutive boys' championship and roll to its third consecutive girls' title. Senior Lauren Magdaleno of Sante Fe Springs St. Paul should be among the individual leaders.
* Division V: Senior Tony Arredondo and his Oxnard Santa Clara teammates could sweep the boys' titles. Riverside Woodcrest Christian and defending champion San Francisco University are expected to battle for the girls' team championship with sophomore Tani Brown of Los Angeles Brentwood contending for the individual title.