When the Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country team won the CIF State Division IV championship in 2018, the success came so instantaneously for one of the Breakers’ newest and most vital pieces that he could not fully appreciate what had gone into it.
Logan Brooks, then a junior transfer from Santa Rosa Beach (Fla.) South Walton, had raised his level of performance, finishing the season as an all-state performer by placing seventh in the Division IV final.
He had done what his team needed him to do then.
As the clear ace of Laguna Beach this season, the Breakers asked Brooks to take on an even bigger role as a leader. He obliged.
Brooks led the Breakers to a sixth-place finish in the CIF State Division IV final and a third-place showing in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final. For that, Brooks is the Daily Pilot Boys’ Cross-Country Dream Team Runner of the Year in 2019.
“I think he totally took it on completely, 100%,” Breakers coach Scott Wittkop said of Brooks, a repeat Dream Team selection. “From day one, he was the leader of the team. He was who the kids followed.
“With he and Mateo [Bianchi], there were a lot of races those guys didn’t race. They ran to help the rest of the team.”
Brooks, a senior, and Bianchi, a junior, represented the only returners from Laguna Beach’s top 10 runners the year prior. The onus fell on them to bring along their new teammates and elevate the Breakers to the level of a contender.
At times, Laguna Beach’s frontrunners held back, going on tempo runs to set the pace for their teammates.
“I think the most important part was for us to kind of pull those guys together and run with them and help set the pace for them, give them confidence in their abilities,” Brooks said. “You have to do what is best for the team, at that point, because that is what matters in the end.”
When the time came to open up his stride, Brooks was still elite. He set a three-mile personal record in the Woodbridge Invitational at SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco, finishing sixth in the sweepstakes race in 14 minutes 24.7 seconds with only one shoe.
Laguna Beach finished third in the CIF Division 4 final at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course, but Brooks endured a rare disappointing race. The CIF champion hopeful finished 15th, hindered by an ankle injury.
He bounced back in a big way in the state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno, finishing third with a time of 15:24.7 to lead Laguna Beach to a sixth-place showing in the Division IV race.
“We just felt that CIF was kind of an anomaly,” Wittkop said of Brooks. “Everyone has a bad day. We felt that as long as he kept his confidence and he got out fast that he was going to be fine. I really believed that he would be a top-five finisher.”
Brooks’ time in the state meet set a school record for a 5K course. He took a moment to look back on the last two seasons with the Laguna Beach cross-country program.
“It’s even crazier now than it was then, to think about what we did,” Brooks said of the 2018 state-winning team. “We kind of came together out of nowhere. It was like a sudden storm. It’s really rewarding to think back on that.”
Brooks, the Wave League champion, also credited the new additions to the lineup for stepping up and contributing to Laguna Beach’s third consecutive appearance at the state meet.
“It’s also pretty good to think back on how the team this year didn’t live in their past achievements of last year,” Brooks added. “A lot of teams will fall off [after] that, but the guys this year did a good job of chasing after what they wanted.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
The Breakers had senior Logan Brooks and junior Mateo Bianchi return after winning the CIF State Division IV title last season, but Laguna Beach had to replenish the farm to get back to the state meet. Senior Tanner Burton, freshman Christopher Drews and senior Gabe Neff broke into the scoring five, helping Laguna Beach win the Wave League again. Sophomore Mael Metis was another valuable runner that provided a safety net. Laguna Beach placed third in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final and advanced to the state meet for the third consecutive year. Wittkop repeats as the Dream Team Coach of the Year.
Laguna Beach | Jr.
One of two returners from Laguna Beach’s CIF State Division IV championship team the previous year, Bianchi formed a dynamic duo atop the Breakers’ lineup with Brooks. He was the runner-up to Brooks in the Wave League final (second overall in the Sunset Conference), and he also finished second in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final to lead Laguna Beach back to the state meet. Bianchi earned all-state honors in Division IV, placing 10th in the race in 15:36.8.
Huntington Beach | Sr.
Cahuantzi placed third in the Wave League final, helping the Oilers secure the league’s second-place berth into the CIF Southern Section preliminaries. Huntington Beach beat Fountain Valley 53-65 in the second-place battle, putting Cahuantzi, Elin Mitchel (sixth, 16:20.4) and Nolan Walt (seventh, 16:22.4), in front of the Barons’ top runner. Cahuantzi also had a seventh-place showing in 15:46.6 in the Division 2 race of the Orange County Championships at Oak Canyon Park.
Newport Harbor | Jr.
The team battle in the Surf League final was a tight one. Los Alamitos topped Edison 47-49 for the championship. Newport Harbor was the first team left out of the CIF Southern Section postseason, finishing third with 52 points. Clark punched his ticket into the CIF Division 2 preliminaries, though, claiming eighth place for the league’s last at-large selection. He added top-10 finishes in the Division 2 junior race of the Laguna Hills Invitational (fifth, 16:24.3) and the Division 2 race of the Orange County Championships (eighth, 15:48.6).
Newport Harbor | Sr.
DeBassio won the Surf League title with a time of 15:27.9 at Central Park in Huntington Beach. The three-year varsity runner became the Sailors’ fifth consecutive league champion, joining Ben Wilson (2015) and Alexis Garcia (2016-18). DeBassio advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 final as an individual, where he finished his high school career with a three-mile lifetime-best performance of 15:23.4. He also placed second in the Division 2 race of the Orange County Championships.
Edison | Sr.
In his only season at the varsity level, Garcia had a big finish that helped catapult Edison into the CIF Southern Section Division 2 preliminaries. He broke 16 minutes for the first time in the Surf League final, where he led the Chargers with a seventh-place showing in 15:53.1. The exciting league final saw Edison sneak into the CIF postseason by a three-point margin, 49-52, over Newport Harbor, while missing out on the league title by two points, 47-49, to Los Alamitos.
Ocean View| So.
Gonzalez burst onto the scene with top-10 finishes in his first six races, including victories in the first two Golden West League cluster meets and a grade-level race in the Dana Hills Invitational. The surprising sophomore went on to finish third in the Golden West League final. He placed 16th in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final in 15:41.1, advancing to the CIF State meet as an individual, where he finished 33rd in the Division IV race on the 5K course in 16:11.7.
Corona del Mar | Sr.
Pence showed early promise in setting a personal record with a time of 15:38.4 in the Woodbridge Invitational. Although the Sea Kings did not advance to the CIF Southern Section postseason as a team, Pence extended his season all the way to the Division 3 final. He was the Surf League runner-up in 15:46.4, and he finished 11th in the Division 3 preliminaries to move on to the CIF finals.
Name, School, Year
John Paul Bottazzi, Costa Mesa, Sr.
Tanner Burton, Laguna Beach, Sr.
Wylie Cleugh, Edison, Fr.
Christopher Drews, Laguna Beach, Fr.
Miguel Flores, Ocean View, Sr.
Cole Ridenour, Newport Harbor, Sr.
Jeff Ritter, Edison, Jr.
Parker Walpole, Ocean View, Jr.
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