Costa Mesa High junior Diane Molina has spoken in the past about how much she appreciates her familial relationships.
After her best performance to date, she quickly found the two people that she refers to as her “number one fans.”
Molina threw herself into the waiting arms of her mother, Maria, and her grandmother, Lupe, displaying tears of joy after accomplishing the goal she had set for herself this girls’ cross-country season.
The Mustangs ace defended her Orange Coast League individual title with a time of 16 minutes 54 seconds on Monday at Irvine Regional Park.
For Molina, the time, more so than the championship, was the statement. It marked the first three-mile race in which Molina has broken 17 minutes.
“I think it was more of a shock,” Molina said of the tears. “I was just so happy since I’ve been trying to break that barrier. I’ve already won, so it wasn’t that. I didn’t care what place I got. I just wanted to break 17 [minutes], and I’m so happy that I won, too.”
Understandably, Molina commented on the physicality of the race after Santa Ana junior Maria Hernandez (second, 17:03.0) gave her all she could handle. Hernandez, who won back-to-back individual league crowns when Santa Ana was in the Golden West League, was sitting on the hip of Molina as the two past champions began the second half of the race.
Mustangs coach Steve Moreno finally let Molina run in sweepstakes races at invitational meets this year, and Molina said it has helped her with race strategy.
“I knew how she felt since I’ve been there,” Molina said. “I knew that if she saw that I was having trouble, she was going to take me there. I wasn’t letting her. Every single time she tried to pass me, I would kick harder just to show her that I wasn’t tired.”
The top three teams in the Orange Coast League advanced to the CIF Southern Section preliminaries, which will be held at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course on Nov. 9-10.
Santa Ana defeated Costa Mesa 28-49 for the girls’ team title. Saddleback placed third (61 points), Orange took fourth (96) and Estancia finished fifth (120).
Calvary Chapel senior Elizabeth Radmilovich qualified for CIF as an individual, placing third with a time of 17:58.2.
The Orange Coast League lost Laguna Beach and added Santa Ana as its new top-tier team. The Saints were glad to have Costa Mesa to contend with on the boys’ side, as both schools put five runners inside the top 10.
Saints senior Diego Duran (15:05.9) edged Mustangs senior Kevin Cortez (15:09.8) for first in the boys’ race.
“We had Ocean View last year, and they were very formidable opponents, but this year, we got Kevin and his team,” Duran said. “They put up a fight. It was great competition to get everyone faster, put us more on the map.”
Santa Ana swept the team titles, winning the boys’ championship 20-35 over Costa Mesa. Saddleback placed third (83 points), Orange finished fourth (111) and Estancia was fifth (136).
Seth Loomis (sixth, 16:17.3), Riley Mitchell (eighth, 16:28.7), Skyler Noonan (ninth, 16:29.3) and Robert Perez (10th, 16:43.5) completed the Mustangs’ scoring five.
Cortez had been attempting to become the second Mustang to win the individual boys’ league title in the last three years. Elliot Hachac, whom Cortez called “an inspiration,” accomplished the feat in 2016.
As for being the frontrunner of the Mustangs’ boys’ program now, Cortez deflected the attention from himself.
“It feels great,” Cortez said. “Without my teammates, I don’t think I could do it. They’ve been motivating me, they’ve been pushing me harder, and I’m grateful to have them as teammates.”
Estancia coach Charlie Appell said that he and rest of the coaches in the league received complaints about the space the traditional South Coast League finals course was taking up from park officials, so the course was adjusted to run a double loop on asphalt on the north end of the park.