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High School Cross-Country Preview: Laguna Beach boys hope for encore performance

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Mateo Bianchi of Laguna Beach competes in the Doug Speck sweepstakes race in the 39th annual Woodbridge Invitational at SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco on Sept. 21.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country team hopes to wind up right where it ended last season.

Four seniors graduated from the Breakers’ CIF State Division IV state championship team, leaving senior Logan Brooks and junior Mateo Bianchi to carry the load this year.

At the Great Cow Run at Don Knabe Community Regional Park in Cerritos on Aug. 31, the duo talked about winning a state title. Bianchi did not disagree when asked if finishing the season with a win could be likened to the perfect Laguna Beach sunset.

“It felt pretty surreal for a while,” Bianchi said. “Everyone was just kind of in awe. I think once we realized what we actually had done, then we kind of let loose a little more.”

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The Sunset Conference divided its eight teams into the Surf League and Wave League before last season. The placement of Laguna Beach in the lower-tiered Wave League did not seem right, and the Breakers’ postseason validated that viewpoint.

Brooks earned all-state honors with a seventh-place showing in the Division IV final. He said that being in the Wave League does not make him feel overlooked because he assesses accomplishment by his own performance and that of his team.

“If they want to put us in that division, we’re just going to come out there and we’re going to crush it,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t really matter to us. We’ll compete with whoever we need to compete with.

“We don’t really take pride in who we beat. We just love going out there and competing. It doesn’t bother us too much.”

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Laguna Beach, which is ranked second behind Ventura Foothill Tech in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 boys’ poll, will be in the Wave League with Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Marina.

Huntington Beach has seen two Mitchel brothers lead its pack in Alekos (Fresno State) and Lars (Colorado State), and now a third may be ready to take on that role.

“We still have Elin Mitchel, so he’s a junior,” Oilers coach Kareen Shackelford said. “He led the varsity boys and had a one-minute [personal record at the Great Cow Run], so that was exciting for him.

“We’ve lost our frontrunner [in Lars Mitchel], but we’ve moved up the pack. We still have a good group of boys there that are really excited and want to go on to CIF.”

Newport Harbor was the runner-up to Los Alamitos in the Surf League last season, but the Sailors graduated distance ace Alexis Garcia (Cal State Fullerton).

Corona del Mar and Edison also reside in the Surf League on the boys’ side, and the Chargers could be on the rise with a promising young corps. Edison freshman Wylie Cleugh won his Division 2 grade-level race at the Laguna Hills Invitational on Sept. 14.

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Edison’s Wylie Cleugh, right, is congratulated by teammate Alex Carvalho for winning the freshman boys’ Division 2 race at the Laguna Hills Invitational on Sept. 14.
(Spencer Grant)

Ocean View, which advanced to its second consecutive state meet last season, is not currently ranked. The Seahawks, who began the season as the No. 5 team in Division 4, keep finding new pieces to add to the puzzle. Sophomore Diego Gonzalez, a first-year cross-country runner, led the team at the Woodbridge Invitational on Sept. 21.

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Costa Mesa senior Diane Molina, who has received the Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year award in back-to-back seasons, continues to be the face of local girls’ cross-country.

Molina competed in the Bob Day’s sweepstakes race at the Woodbridge Invitational for the second time. After taking a fall during a training run, Molina said that her pain threshold was a mental hurdle, but her goals lie further down the road.

“This season, it doesn’t matter what you do in the beginning of the season,” said Molina, who finished fifth in the Division IV final at state as a junior. “What matters is what you do at the end, what you do at [Orange Coast] League [finals], and what you are going to accomplish at state.

“My goal is just to do better than top five [at state], honestly. Try to go and win it. I know that I’m not at the place that I wanted to be at this moment, but I feel like throughout the season, as it progresses, I’m going to keep on bettering myself and bettering my times.”

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Costa Mesa senior Diane Molina competes in the Bob Day’s girls’ sweepstakes race in the 39th annual Woodbridge Invitational at SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco on Sept. 21.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Fountain Valley, which has won three consecutive league championships, could have a tough time defending its Surf League title. The Barons advanced to the state meet through the Division 1 finals last season, but they graduated Ashley Faller (UC San Diego) and Sara Feitz (Concordia). Sophomore Ashlee Gallegos also transferred from Fountain Valley to Edison.

The Barons still have senior Maddie Jahshan, who earned a spot on the Dream Team last season.

CdM junior Annabelle Boudreau is the area’s other returning Dream Team selection on the girls’ side. Sea Kings coach Bill Sumner said that the defending Surf League champion has had a significant growth spurt during the offseason.

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Marina, which finished last in the Surf League a year ago, will look to climb up the standings with progress from juniors Makena Castillo and Marikay Schwab.

The Laguna Beach girls are ranked No. 5 in Division 4, despite the loss of frontrunner Hannah Konkel.

The reigning Wave League champion Breakers continue to reload. Freshman Nina Rogers paced the Breakers in the Woodbridge Invitational with a time of 18 minutes 9.9 seconds.

“The culture of the team is strong, which is pushing us to all be stronger,” Breakers coach Steve Lalim said. “Our depth is really [the] key.”

Newport Harbor, which finished second in the Wave League last season, hopes to challenge the Breakers. The Sailors appear to have added to their roster in the form of Leanna Tamura, who won the Division 2 freshman girls’ race at the Laguna Hills Invitational.

Senior Kate Miller placed third in 20:03 to help the Sage Hill girls to a runner-up showing by a score of 33-48 against Carpinteria Cate in the Brentwood Small School Invitational on Sept. 21. The Lightning are ranked No. 10 in Division 5.

In a tri meet between host Estancia, Brethren Christian and Bolsa Grande on Sept. 18, senior Diego Monroy (11:45.64) and freshman Valerie Madrid (14:43.11) emerged victorious for the Eagles in the two-mile race.

Senior Derek Reiser (third, 11:51.97) and senior Shirlyn Rhee (12th, 17:10.22) were the top runners for the Warriors.

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