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Ryan Smithers, Alexis Garcia medal at Foot Locker West Regional

Ryan Smithers, Alexis Garcia medal at Foot Locker West Regional
Newport Harbor High's Alexis Garcia, left, and Laguna Beach's Ryan Smithers earned medals in the Foot Locker West Regional boys' championship race on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College. (Photo by Andrew Turner)

Only days after the Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country team delivered the program’s first state championship since 2009, several of its members had a decision to make.

Senior ace Ryan Smithers was the only one that seemed certain that he would run in the Foot Locker West Regional.

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In the end, senior Sebastian Fisher and junior Logan Brooks decided to join Smithers on the starting line for one final cross-country race at Mt. San Antonio College on Saturday.

The togetherness of the Breakers was highlighted throughout a decorated season, and that closeness was once again on display as the campaign reached its end.

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Smithers needed nearly half an hour to recover after the race, and his teammates and coaches stood by his side for the duration, offering the only things they could to help – water and words of encouragement.

Once Smithers had found his strength again, the team made its way over to the awards ceremony. Smithers received a loud ovation from his camp when he received his 11th place medal.

In order to advance to the Foot Locker National Championship at Balboa Park in San Diego next Saturday, runners had to finish in the top 10 of the boys’ and girls’ regional championship races.

Smithers, who completed the hilly course in 15 minutes 52.4 seconds was running in 10th place, when he heard footsteps and looked behind him near the finish line. He tripped and fell with five meters to go, although the battle for 10th would have been close. Zachary Erikson (15:48.7) of Idaho Falls had a strong kick at the end to take the final qualifying spot for nationals.

“I feel fine,” Smithers said of narrowly missing the cut. “I’m not extremely bummed. I didn’t even expect to get that close to it, but I tried. That’s all I can do, really. I’m not that mad about it.”

It was Smithers’ first career race on the famed Mt. SAC course, which features three main hills in “Switchbacks,” “Poop Out,” and “Reservoir.”

“To be completely honest, I did not enjoy it at all,” Smithers said of his debut on the course. “The entire time, my legs didn’t feel too great because I just got out so hard. Every hill was just a grind.

“It was very mentally [challenging] for me, but I’m glad I got through it.”

Brooks finished 130th in 17:11.9, and Fisher pulled himself out of the race on the final hill for precautionary reasons.

Newport Harbor senior Alexis Garcia finished 20th in 16:04.1, also earning a spot on the medal stand. Medals were handed out to runners that placed in the top 24.

Garcia improved upon his first appearance in the Foot Locker West Regional. He finished 31st overall with a time of 16:17.4 as a junior.

At the end of an outstanding high school cross-country career that has seen him take home Daily Pilot Male Cross-Country Runner of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons, Garcia said he feels ready to take on the next level.

“It’s been pretty good,” Garcia said of his cross-country career. “I’ve had a lot of victories and a lot of failures. I definitely learned more from my failures than from my victories, so if I get to run in college, I’m going to be ready for it.”

Newport Beach resident Peter Herold, who attends JSerra, placed 14th in 15:59.8. His high school teammate, Anthony Grover, advanced to nationals by finishing fourth in 15:37.6.

Corona del Mar sophomore Annabelle Boudreau placed 40th in 19:07.1. She was running the Mt. SAC course for the third time in the last two years. She noted that the challenge remains the same, saying, “Those hills, they’ll get you every time.”

Costa Mesa junior Diane Molina finished 33rd in 18:58.9. She was pleased to see a nice gesture at the start of her race. Malibu’s Claudia Lane, last year’s Foot Locker national champion, missed most of her senior season due to injury, but she made an appearance in firing the starting gun to send the girls off.

“It was a beautiful thing to see because you see her, and you know that you as a runner, you would want to run, too, right now, and an injury holds you back,” Molina said. “I think that it is pretty cool that they did that because she got to at least participate.”

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