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Ryan Smithers, Laguna Beach boys win Division 4 titles at CIF finals

Laguna Beach High boys’ cross-country coach Scott Wittkop had a feeling that he had a special group this season, but he rarely, if ever, engaged in title talk.

Wittkop’s goal for the Breakers was to get back to the state meet, but because of the team’s commitment to each other, they accomplished that feat in grand fashion.

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Senior Ryan Smithers won the Division 4 race in 14 minutes 46.1 seconds, leading Laguna Beach past JSerra 39-131 for the team title in the CIF Southern Section finals on Saturday at the Riverside City College cross-country course.

“I honestly believe that it’s not the top guys that win these team battles,” Smithers said. “It’s our third, fourth, and fifth guys, and they really put the pedal to the metal, so props to them.”

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Laguna Beach put six runners in the top 13 overall. Sebastian Fisher (seventh, 15:27.0), Logan Brooks (ninth, 15:28.9), Cal Nielson (10th, 15:29.3), Zachary Falkowski (12th, 15:33.9), Mateo Bianchi (13th, 15:33.9) and Will Compton (48th, 16:16.7) also drew the start for the Breakers.

“They just work off of one another,” Wittkop said. “Every workout, they’re step for step. We call them ‘the magnets.’ They have to stick together.”

Laguna Beach won its first section title since 2009, a year that was capped with the Breakers winning the Division IV state crown. It could be happening again next Saturday when Laguna Beach competes at the state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno.

In order to qualify for state, teams had to finish in the top seven of their race. A maximum of five individuals from each race also qualified, provided that they finished in the top 20.

The Laguna Beach girls also qualified with a sixth-place finish in their Division 4 race. Hannah Konkel led the Breakers, placing 11th in 18:13.3.

Costa Mesa’s Diane Molina moved on as an individual for the second straight year, taking fifth with a time of 17:30.2.

Joining Molina as a local to return to the state meet individually was Newport Harbor’s Alexis Garcia, who recovered from an early fall to capture sixth in the Division 2 boys’ race. Garcia ran 14:55.9.

Corona del Mar’s Annabelle Boudreau was a surprise individual, as the Sea Kings’ boys’ and girls’ teams both failed to qualify for state. Boudreau was the runner-up in the Division 3 girls’ race at 17:40.0, behind an outstanding performance from Oak Park’s Sarah Shulze (17:15.9).

After a trying season, Ocean View’s boys, who advanced to state for the first time last season, will return to the state meet.

“The stars, the cosmos, and the universe aligned to have the race that we had today,” Seahawks coach Daniel Hurtado, whose team placed sixth in Division 4, said. “All season long, we have been struggling to find the groove that we knew we could have.”

Fountain Valley’s girls broke through by taking fourth in Division 1, reaching their first state meet since 2007. Ashley Faller, Sara Feitz, Maddie Jahshan, Julia Svartstrom and Ashlee Gallegos made up the scoring quintet for the Barons.

“There were a lot of doubts,” Feitz said. “This past week, we’ve really just been focusing on our health and our mental state, and we just came in here and did so much better than I thought we could.”

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