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Barons' girls team takes first

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Pack running is tough to do in cross country, but when done well, it is a beautiful thing.

That rare feat was accomplished by Fountain Valley's girls' cross country team on Saturday morning.

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Five Barons crossed the finish line together from the fourth to eighth positions, and Fountain Valley captured its first league title since 2007 in the Sunset League Finals at Central Park.

It wasn't just a well run race. It was an exhibition, one that ended with Fountain Valley defeating Los Alamitos, 30-44.

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Ashley Faller, Sara Feitz, Isabella Guerra, Kristen Prado, and Maddie Jahshan finished in that order for the Barons, leaving a minuscule seven-second gap in their scoring five.

Fountain Valley co-coaches Jerry Palazzo and Brian Bivens became the architects of the Barons' pack-running project. They began the year with a young team, one that started a single upperclassman (Prado) on Saturday.

"This just happens to be a group of girls that are within 20 or 30 seconds on most days," Palazzo said. "They learned that in staying together, they draw strength from each other."

"That's the beauty of pack strategy is you have to find some desire and a willingness to step up."

Following the race, Bivens approached his girls to congratulate them on one of the best pack performances he had ever seen. The Barons' top five included three sophomores and a freshman.

Palazzo expressed the importance of developing kids to run as a pack, and he said Jahshan's emergence as a freshman was huge for the team's success.

"We only really had four, and we had a freshman that decided that she wanted to be a part of it," Palazzo said. "She ran a 26-minute 5K when I met her two years ago."

"Now she's running 18-low on a three-mile (run) because she wants to be a part of it."

The Barons won four consecutive league championships from 2004 to 2007. Their youth suggests another dynasty may be in the making.

The boys' team title went to another school that has had to wait its turn, as Newport Harbor bested Los Alamitos, 21-74.

Predictably, the Sailors' trio of Alexis Garcia, Mark Field, and Ben Wilson ran well up front, securing the top three spots in the race.

Newport Harbor left no doubt who the class of the league was by receiving clutch performances from No. 4 and No. 5 runners Luke Downing (seventh) and Michael Davey (eighth).

"That was great because that was the only factor where Los Al could have beat us," Wilson, the senior captain said. "There was at least going to be three of us in the top five. That was a guarantee."

"It was just those four and five guys. They really showed up today, and I'm extremely proud of them for doing that."

Huntington Beach's Alekos Mitchel extended his season, qualifying for CIF with a fifth-place showing in 15:41. The senior said it's the stage he has been waiting for.

"It means a lot because I've been looking forward to the CIF race," Mitchel said of advancing. "It's good to know even though I might not have hit the times that I want this season, it still gets me to that point that I was trying for."

Mia Matsunami won the girls' varsity race in 18:00, giving Newport Harbor a sweep of the individual crowns.

"It's really cool for all of us," Matsunami said. "Not very many schools can say that they have two individual league champions."

Although she was challenged with three-quarters of a mile to go, the sophomore beat Los Alamitos' Olivia Velasco by a nine-second margin.

Velasco, a freshman, had edged out Matsunami in their previous two encounters.

The sweep gives Newport Harbor three of the four individual winners over the last two years, as Wilson took the boys' title last season as a junior.

BOYS CROSS COUNTRY

Sunset League Finals

At Central Park, Huntington Beach

3-mile course

Q – denotes CIF individual qualifier

Team Results

1. Newport Harbor 21; 2. Los Alamitos 74; 3. Edison 78; 4. Fountain Valley 87; 5. Huntington Beach 97; 6. Marina 149

Individuals

1. Garcia (Newport Harbor) 15:20; 2. Field (Newport Harbor) 15:25; 3. Wilson (Newport Harbor) 15:37; 4. Stumpf (Los Alamitos) 15:40; 5. A. Mitchel (Huntington Beach) 15:41Q; 6. Groom (Edison) 15:45; 7. Downing (Newport Harbor) 16:05; 8. Davey (Newport Harbor) 16:07; 9. Tadros (Fountain Valley) 16:08; 10. Bond (Edison) 16:10; 16. Sutherland (Marina) 16:28

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY

Sunset League Finals

At Central Park, Huntington Beach

3-mile course

Q – denotes CIF individual qualifier

Team Results

1. Fountain Valley 30; 2. Los Alamitos 44; 3. Edison 72; 4. Marina 108; 5. Newport Harbor 109

Individuals

1. Matsunami (Newport Harbor) 18:00Q; 2. Velasco (Los Alamitos) 18:09; 3. Sanacore (Los Alamitos) 18:23; 4. Faller (Fountain Valley) 18:35; 5. Feitz (Fountain Valley) 18:38; 6. Guerra (Fountain Valley) 18:38; 7. Prado (Fountain Valley) 18:40; 8. Jahshan (Fountain Valley) 18:42; 9. Hamel (Edison) 18:44; 10. Ledgard (Los Alamitos) 18:57

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