Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Dream Team: Makenzie McRae helped Huntington Beach make history
Makenzie McRae showed years ago she could be a difference-maker for a high school cross-country team.
A runner since age 8, McRae proved she was a promising prospect when she ran in the Central Park Invitational women’s open race two years ago and finished ninth overall.
On that early October day, the Huntington Beach resident, then 13, ran a time of 18 minutes 52.4 seconds, pacing all competitors under the age of 15 by 49 seconds.
Then McRae’s family moved to Oregon, and luckily for the Huntington Beach High School girls’ cross-country program, they returned home in time for her sophomore year.
McRae made her Oilers debut at the Central Park Invitational on the same course she had already experienced some of her best successes. The sophomore clocked in at 17:38.5, claiming the win by 15 seconds over Redondo Union sophomore Lyla Fedio, and perhaps putting Huntington Beach on the radar as a contender that day.
Huntington Beach finished second to Redondo Union 75-95 in the Division 1 race at the meet. It would be two more weeks before Huntington Beach appeared in the CIF Southern Division 1 rankings at No. 12.
“I think as the season went on, our team just grew closer and definitely got way better than the beginning of the season,” McRae said. “I feel like people just didn’t expect it because maybe in the past years, Huntington has just never made it to state. … I feel like seeing [the result] was just like a shock to people.”
The Oilers were on the rise, though, led by their frontrunner who refused to lose. McRae was victorious in Huntington Beach’s appearance at the Mt. SAC Invitational.
Then she narrowly edged Corona del Mar’s Melisse Djomby-Enyawe for the Wave League championship. That performance placed her first overall in the Sunset Conference, a meet that was once again held at Central Park in Huntington Beach.
McRae is the Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Athlete of the Year. With her leading the way, the Oilers won their first league title since 1988 and advanced to the CIF State cross-country championships for the first time in program history.
The starting seven that accomplished those feats also included seniors Quinn Roldan and Claire Lewis, juniors Luna Centeno and Lily Fosmire, and sophomores Andrea Linggi-Perez and Belle Baker.
The camaraderie of the team was a big factor in Huntington Beach evolving into a contender, McRae said.
“Everyone is super supportive, and we’re really big on just having this be a team sport and always being together,” she said. “It’s like our second family, just always training together and being there for each other on the workouts and stuff.”
As the Oilers toed the starting line for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 final, Huntington Beach coach Kareen Shackelford, who had qualified for state while competing for Chino Hills Ayala as a prep athlete, said she felt confident her team would advance, but said she was still a bundle of nerves.
“What’s interesting to me is that the nerves are still there,” Shackelford said of trying to get to state as a coach. “They just are settled differently because when you were the athlete yourself, you’re doing it for the other six girls and yourself.
“When you’re the coach, you’re out there just knowing they’ve got all the tools, they’ve got all the preparation, but they have to synthesize it together, so it’s just a different set of nerves. I’m nervous every race, sweating profusely, and I’m not the one racing, but I’m just so excited for them and to see what they can accomplish and have their dreams come true.”
Seven teams from each of the section’s finals advance to state. Huntington Beach placed fifth in the Division 1 final. At the state meet, Huntington Beach finished 13th out of 21 teams in the Division I race.
In her spare time, McRae enjoys thrift shopping and biking with friends, an active lifestyle that doesn’t fall far from the tree. She said her mom, Sally, is an ultra-marathoner for trail running.
“My mom is definitely a huge inspiration,” McRae added. “She’s a runner, too. I think that’s also one of the reasons I’ve gotten into running. I just really want to be like her when I grow up because she’s super inspiring.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Huntington Beach made history across the board this fall, ending a long league title drought and qualifying for the state meet for the first time. When the Oilers won the Wave League crown, it marked the first league championship for the program since 1988. Shackelford, who said she has been the head coach of the program for 15 years, then watched her qualify for the state meet in Fresno, just as she had helped Chino Hills Ayala break that barrier in 1995. “That’s a very exciting honor that I would say is equal among the coaching staff that I work with because they have poured in so much time and love and energy to this program,” Shackelford said of being named the Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Coach of the Year. The dream of state was one that was voiced by those within the program during the pandemic, and Shackelford noted how proud she was that the Oilers never lost their drive to succeed in that goal.
Fountain Valley | Sr.
An injury-shortened season did not go without standout performances. Cichon started the season with a victory in the Larry Burgess Las Vegas Invitational, completing the 5K course in 19:42.8 to lead Fountain Valley to a 36-88 win over Las Vegas Shadow Ridge in the large schools division. Cichon authored a signature performance two weeks later in finishing third at the Dana Hills Invitational in 16:58.0, making her the area’s only girl to run a time south of the 17-minute mark this fall. Quad tightness cut her cross-country season short.
Corona del Mar | So.
Djomby-Enyawe appeared regularly on leaderboards, earning eight top-10 finishes in the 10 times she toed the starting line this season. She had a grade-level win in the Sunny Hills Wayne Walker Invitational. There were also runner-up showings at the Laguna Hills and the Mt. SAC invitationals, both of which were Division 3 races, as well as in the small schools race of the Orange County Championships and the Sunset Conference finals. Djomby-Enyawe placed sixth in 18:07.6 in the CIF Division 3 final, earning an individual bid into the state meet, where she finished 18th in 18:38.0 in the Division III race.
Laguna Beach | Sr.
Laguna Beach, a proud and decorated program, had a down year. Falkowski, the ace of the Breakers for the past couple of seasons, was rewarded for her consistency. While the Breakers finished at the back of the pack in the Surf League, Falkowski won the individual league title. She was fifth overall in the Sunset Conference finals. Falkowski also placed 10th (17:50.4) in the rated race of the Woodbridge Classic. She narrowly missed out on advancing to state, placing 16th in 18:48.1 in the Division 4 final, as the last of five individual berths went to Ridgecrest Burroughs’ Leah Tomlinson (15th, 18:46.6).
Ocean View | Sr.
Once a Golden West League champion as a sophomore, King continued to lead the Seahawks as a senior. While Katella’s Ashlynn Viramontes took the title in 17:39.0 this year, King’s runner-up time of 18:59.9 was still 86 seconds faster than the rest of the field and a critical contribution for Ocean View, which finished second in league as a team to advance to the CIF postseason. King also placed second in the Division 3 junior and senior combined race at the Dana Hills Invitational with a time of 18:55.7 and posted a seasonal-best time of 18:55.0 at the Woodbridge Classic.
Huntington Beach | Sr.
Lewis once likened the members of her team to being individual ingredients that when brought together made a “big, amazing, victorious cake.” If she is to be taken at her word, then Lewis and Quinn Roldan were the batter, for there will be no cake without a base. They were committed to running as a pack for the growth of the team just months earlier, when an abbreviated season saw teams competing exclusively in dual meets as a precaution against COVID-19. Lewis finished fourth in the Sunset Conference finals and fifth in the Central Park Invitational. She also ran a personal-best time of 18:47.4 to finish fourth at the Asics Clovis Invitational, which is run on the 5K course at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Fountain Valley | Sr.
Even without Cichon in the fold in the latter part of the season, Fountain Valley was still deep enough to defend its Surf League championship, holding off Los Alamitos 39-44. Martinez led that effort, finishing third among Surf League competitors and eighth overall in 18:47.3. She also set a three-mile personal record of 17:44.5 at the Dana Hills Invitational, where she placed 17th in the invitational flight. Fountain Valley was ranked in the top five of Division 1 for much of the season, topping out at fourth when the polls were released on Oct. 25. The Barons finished the year at No. 12.
Huntington Beach | Sr.
Roldan and Lewis were virtually inseparable on the course. On four occasions, the Oilers’ seniors occupied consecutive spots in the finishing order of a race — in a dual meet versus Mater Dei, the Central Park Invitational, the Clovis Invitational and the Sunset Conference finals. All of them resulted in top-five finishes individually. Roldan was the second Huntington Beach runner to cross the finish line, coming in third in 18:03.8 to help the Oilers win the Wave League title and end a 33-year league title drought.
Name, School, Year
Daisy Carrillo, Costa Mesa, Sr.
Leah Ferris, Fountain Valley, Sr.
Mia Lomon, Marina, So.
Ella Murray, Marina, So.
Coco Reed, Laguna Beach, Sr.
Ellie Rosing, Corona del Mar, Jr.
Emma Scheumann, Newport Harbor, So.
Evelyn To, Fountain Valley, Jr.
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