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Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Dream Team: Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina shows she can contend with the best

Costa Mesa High junior Diane Molina is the Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Dream Team Runner of the
Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina ran a 5K personal-best time of 17 minutes 58.5 seconds and finished fifth in the CIF State Division IV final in 2018.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The value of a bona-fide ace in cross-country cannot be understated.

Costa Mesa High has seen a new distance runner step up to take on that responsibility as another has graduated.

Anuare Magana (2014) and Elliot Hachac (2016) made the CIF State cross-country championships on the boys’ side in their senior seasons.

Diane Molina did not wait nearly as long to advance to that stage. In her freshman year, she had already become the face of the Costa Mesa girls’ cross-country team.

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The following year, she reached the state meet as an individual in Division IV, placing 15th with a time of 18 minutes 47.5 seconds.

There was intrigue for those wondering what Molina might do for an encore. Mustangs coach Steve Moreno had planned to build up the confidence of Molina early on in her career.

Through her first two seasons, Molina ran in grade-level and lower-level races more often than not. The training wheels came off for her junior year, and Molina ran in the faster sweepstakes races this season.

Molina was able to handle the pressure of running in bigger races. She is the repeat winner of the Daily Pilot Girls’ Cross-Country Dream Team Runner of the Year award.

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Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina and Santa Ana’s Maria Hernandez battle it out in the second lap during the
Costa Mesa's Diane Molina, left, and Santa Ana's Maria Hernandez battle it out in the second lap of the Orange Coast League finals at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Oct. 29, 2018.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“When you go into big sweepstakes races, you get to know your competition,” Molina said. “You see them every single time instead of just being in a regular race and then you see other people.

“I guess when you see these people over and over again, it just gives you a drive to keep doing better because you’re like, ‘Oh, I can stick with that person. I need to do what they’re doing every single race.’”

In nine starts, Molina finished first five times, including a sweep of the Orange Coast League meets. She set a new school record in defending her league crown with a time of 16:54 at Irvine Regional Park.

Molina ran in the sweepstakes races at the Woodbridge Invitational and the Orange County Championships. At the county meet, she placed seventh, which was a sign of things to come when the CIF Southern Section postseason arrived.

Molina won her Division 4 race in the CIF preliminaries at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course. She advanced to state for the second year in a row as an individual after placing fifth (17:30.2) in the CIF finals.

Back at state, Molina dropped a 5K personal record of 17:58.5, earning a spot on the podium with a fifth-place finish at Woodward Park in Fresno.

“One thing that is great about Diane is she sets really high goals for herself,” Moreno said. “She wanted to repeat as the league champ. She wanted to break 17 [minutes]. She wanted to go to state and improve from last year.

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“She accomplished all three of her top goals, so it was great for her.”

Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina leads the pack during the Orange Coast League cross-country finals at Irvi
Costa Mesa's Diane Molina leads the pack during the Orange Coast League finals at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Oct. 29, 2018.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Moreno added that Molina is a tenacious runner who puts in the extra work to become better, and he hopes that others are inspired to follow her example.

“It definitely does help the program because as younger runners come in, they see that it is a possibility that they, too, can have some success,” Moreno said of having a state-caliber No. 1. “As they develop and move along, I think that it is definitely a big benefit to have a runner like Diane up there.”

Molina became more outspoken about her goals this year. She has also shared some of her superstitions, such as bracelets from her grandmother, Lupe, that were intended to bring her good luck and keep out envy.

Her mother, Maria, provided the new superstition for her junior season.

Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina gets a hug from her grandmother Lupe Molina after finishing first in the O
Costa Mesa's Diane Molina gets a hug from her grandmother, Lupe, after finishing first in the Orange Coast League finals at Irvine Regional Park in Orange on Oct. 29, 2018.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“My mom has created this beet juice that I usually take to every meet,” Molina said, adding that she ran a new lifetime-best the first time that she had it. “I always have to have it every single meet.”

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The secret got out, and her Mustangs teammates wanted to share in the new magical elixir.

“It’s not really tasty, but I guess it’s in their mind, like, ‘Oh, Diane drinks it, so I should drink it,’” Molina said. “They form a line, and they’re like, ‘Diane, let me take a sip.’

“I’m like, ‘Guys, I have to save some for myself.’”

That phenomenon is probably not what Moreno had in mind when he said having a distinguished No. 1 in the program gives the other runners a good act to follow.

What is clear is that Molina’s teammates will try anything to get on her level.

COACHES OF THE YEAR

Jerry Palazzo and Brian Bivens

Fountain Valley

When the Barons won the Sunset League title in 2016 with four sophomores, the potential was there for Fountain Valley to go on a league championship run like it did from 2004-2007. Fountain Valley did not simply get lucky with one class of good runners. It continued to build under Palazzo and Bivens, who are co-coaches. In the new Surf League, the Barons were dominant, placing six in the top eight en route to defeating Los Alamitos 22-53 for their third consecutive league title. Running as a pack has been a staple of the Fountain Valley program since the arrival of Palazzo four years ago. With the majority of the 2016 league championship team set to graduate this year, there was one feat that they had yet to accomplish. In the CIF Southern Section Division 1 final race at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course, the Barons were instructed to run to the best of their individual capabilities. It turned out to be enough, as Fountain Valley finished fourth to earn a trip to the state meet.

Corona del Mar High School runner Annabelle Boudreau finished second in the girls’ division 3 race a
Corona del Mar's Annabelle Boudreau finishes second in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 finals at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course on Nov. 17, 2018.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

FIRST TEAM

Annabelle Boudreau

Corona del Mar | So.

The Sea Kings failed to make the CIF State meet as a team for just the third time in the past 31 years. While good health did not accompany CdM this past season, there continues to be no weakness in Boudreau. The experienced road racer has adapted quite well to cross-country. Boudreau took another step forward this year, proving to be the class of the Sunset Conference. The Surf League and Wave League finals were combined into one race, with Boudreau beating the field by 11 seconds (17:05.6). She was the runner-up in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final, advancing to state as an individual. Boudreau won a grade-level race in the Sunny Hills Wayne Walker Invitational, adding a second-place showing in the small schools varsity race of the Orange County Championships.

Ashley Faller

Fountain Valley | Sr.

The four-year varsity member served as a frontrunner for the Barons in her entire career. With that being said, the Barons’ coaching staff received complete buy-in from Faller with regard to their pack-running philosophy. Faller was reluctant to stray away from the blueprint, but she was ready to open her stride when the postseason came along. She ran a three-mile personal-best of 17:16.7 in the Surf League finals, placing second. In the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals, she improved by 10 places (24th, 17:44.6). The three-time Dream Team selection and UC San Diego commit capped her career by placing 30th (18:35.1) in her debut at the CIF State meet, leading the Barons to an eighth-place showing in the Division I race.

Fountain Valley High School runner Ashley Faller, center, and Sara Feitz, right, ran in the girls’
Fountain Valley's Ashley Faller, center, and Sara Feitz, right, run in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course on Nov. 17, 2018.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Sara Feitz

Fountain Valley | Sr.

Fountain Valley tailored its schedule for the postseason, lightening its load of invitational meets in advance of the Surf League finals. Feitz was ready to deliver when it mattered most, supplying career-best placings in the league finals (third) and CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals (34th). The Concordia-bound senior formed a 1-2 punch with Faller atop the Barons’ starting lineup for three years, making her a fixture in Fountain Valley’s streak of three consecutive league titles won.

Maddie Jahshan

Fountain Valley | Jr.

With Faller, Feitz and Isabella Guerra on the way out, Jahshan will matriculate to the elder stateswoman in the Fountain Valley program. Jahshan was fourth in the Surf League finals meet (17:53), and she was also the third Baron (40th, 18:10.3) to cross the finish line in their CIF State-qualifying run at CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals. Next year, she will look to lead a young corps that includes sophomore Julia Svartstrom and freshmen Ashlee Gallegos and Leah Ferris to a fourth straight league crown.

Laguna Beach High School cross country runner Hannah Konkel, left, ran in the sweepstakes individual
Laguna Beach's Hannah Konkel, left, competes in the sweepstakes race of the Woodbridge Invitational at SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco on Sept. 14, 2018.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Hannah Konkel

Laguna Beach | Sr.

The Laguna Beach cross-country program stood up to the challenge of moving from the Orange Coast League to the Wave League. Laguna Beach won its seventh consecutive league title. Konkel won the first Wave League individual crown with a time of 17:37.7. The Breakers senior finished 11th in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final, helping her team advance to CIF State with a sixth-place finish. Konkel also established a new school record for a three-mile course with a time of 17:31.8 in the Woodbridge Invitational at SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco.

Jessie Rose

Laguna Beach | So.

In her first two years of distance running, Rose has been a key contributor for the Breakers. She has been remarkably consistent, breaking the 18-minute mark in two league finals meets — at Centennial Regional Park (Orange Coast League 2017) and Central Park in Huntington Beach (Sunset Conference 2018). Rose also produced a top-25 finish in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 finals (19th, 18:33.4) for the second year in a row. The repeat Dream Team selection may be in line to become the ace of the Breakers after leaving that title to Evie Cant and Hannah Konkel in her first two seasons.

Mia Matsunami

Newport Harbor | Sr.

After a femoral neck stress fracture cost her nearly her entire junior year, Matsunami returned to the form of her sophomore season. The Sailors senior found the winner’s circle in the first three-mile race of the season at the Laguna Hills Invitational, and she did not stop there. She added wins in a varsity race at the Woodbridge Invitational and the Division 2 race of the Orange County Championships. Matsunami did not finish outside of the top 15 in a race until the CIF Southern Section divisional preliminaries.

Newport Harbor cross country runner Mia Matsunami won the Laguna Hills Cross Country Invitational, d
Newport Harbor's Mia Matsunami goes on to win the Laguna Hills Invitational on Sept. 8, 2018.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

SECOND TEAM

Name, School, Year

Ashlee Gallegos, Fountain Valley, Fr.

Adriana Gil, Ocean View, Sr.

Isa Glassen, Newport Harbor, So.

Isabella Guerra, Fountain Valley, Sr.

Gigi Lee, Corona del Mar, Sr.

Natalie Miller, Ocean View, So.

Julia Svartstrom, Fountain Valley, So.

::

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andrew.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner


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