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Laguna Beach boys’ cross-country has shot to defend CIF Division 4 crown

Laguna Beach's Logan Brooks, right, and Mateo Bianchi, left, run in the combined race of the Sunset Conference final at Central Park in Huntington Beach on Nov. 2. Brooks finished first and Bianchi second.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

A word often associated with the postseason is pressure.

The Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country team has yet to feel it, still enjoying the view from the top as the last hours tick away before the CIF Southern Section finals commence.

The Breakers will attempt to defend their Division 4 championship on Saturday at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course.

In preparation for Saturday — and hopefully a chance to repeat as Division IV state champion — the Breakers have not looked behind them. Breakers coach Scott Wittkop and his staff have had the team run controlled races, hoping that it will lead to a healthy team when the races matter the most.

Wittkop feels that his Breakers, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 poll, led by frontrunners Logan Brooks and Mateo Bianchi, are at full strength.

Top-ranked Ventura Foothill Technology and a dangerous pack-running team in Fillmore are among the contenders.

“We’ve never won back-to-back [CIF titles],” Wittkop said. “With the amount of good coaches and the good programs out there, it’s hard enough just to win one. To go back-to-back would be phenomenal.

“It would just be a testament to our kids. I’m more excited for these CIF finals than I have been in the last 12 years of coaching. I’m super excited to see how these kids perform because I think they’re going to do well.”

Ocean View’s boys will also compete in the Division 4 final, looking to advance to the CIF State championships for the third straight season. The state meet will be Nov. 30 at Woodward Park in Fresno.

A maximum of five individuals to place in the top 20 of each race whose teams do not advance will also move on.

Local individuals include Newport Harbor senior Will DeBassio (Division 2), Corona del Mar senior Nico Pence (Division 3) and Marina junior Marikay Schwab (Division 2).

CdM’s girls, ranked No. 10 in Division 3, will be a bubble team to qualify for state. The top seven teams in each divisional final advance to the state meet.

Sea Kings coach Bill Sumner is happy to be in the dance, which he did not consider a given with his team competing against larger schools in the Surf League. An at-large bid via the rankings criteria got CdM into the CIF preliminaries.

“We were lucky to be at CIF prelims,” said Sumner, whose team won its heat in the Division 3 preliminaries last week. “I knew if we got into CIF prelims, we could get to CIF finals relatively easily. My whole season was planning to get to CIF finals.”

At No. 6 in the final rankings for Division 5, the Sage Hill girls are projected to advance to state, but it is anything but a sure thing. That is exciting for Lightning coach Nate Miller, who knows his team will have to get contributions across the board to continue its season.

“I think that will help motivate them,” Miller said. “We’ll probably have two girls that are likely to be in the top 20, and then the rest of our team is probably going to be back in the 50s or 60s, but those places will really matter.”

The Division 4 girls’ race will feature No. 4 Laguna Beach, No. 6 Costa Mesa and Ocean View. Mustangs senior Diane Molina, who has two top-five finishes in her career, will be one of the favorites.

The Fountain Valley girls will be in the Division 1 final.

CIF Southern Section cross-country finals

When/where: Saturday at Riverside City Cross-Country Course (1011 N. Orange Street, Riverside, CA 92501)

Fan info: Gates open at 6 a.m. for spectators. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students with ID and children (ages 5-13). Parking is $10.

Race Schedule (Locals listed)

Division 2 Girls, 7:45 a.m.: Marikay Schwab, Marina, Jr.

Division 3 Girls, 8:05 a.m.: Corona del Mar

Division 2 Boys, 8:25 a.m.: Will DeBassio, Newport Harbor, Sr.

Division 3 Boys, 8:45 a.m.: Nico Pence, Corona del Mar, Sr.

Division 4 Girls, 9:05 a.m.: Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Ocean View

Division 5 Boys, 9:25 a.m.: Sage Hill

Division 1 Girls, 9:45 a.m.: Fountain Valley

Division 4 Boys, 10:10 a.m.: Laguna Beach, Ocean View

Division 5 Girls, 10:35 a.m.: Sage Hill

Division 1 Boys, 11 a.m.: None

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