LAGUNA HILLS — Corona del Mar High cross country coach Bill Sumner can't tell a certain story about Ashlee Powers without laughing. It's a giddy laugh for sure.
Last month during the CdM boys' and girls' training at Mammoth, Powers was struggling as she competed in a push-up contest. She was behind the winner by 15 push-ups, Sumner said. The CdM junior appeared spent and ready to fall on her belly. But slowly, one push-up after the next she caught up to the person in first place and after one more push-up to win, she stopped.
"She doesn't like losing, so that's good news," Sumner said while smiling.
He has good reason to be happy, as Powers showed her disdain for losing and won the girls' Division III junior race at the 27th annual Laguna Hills Invitational Saturday.
Her time wasn't anything to brag about, as she finished the three-mile course in 18 minutes, 47.13 seconds. That was 23rd overall, tops among the female runners from the Newport-Mesa area.
CdM's Austin Barvin, who finished second in the Division III senior race, led the local boys finishing 26th overall in 15:59.79, just ahead of Newport Harbor's Austin Little, who finished sixth in the Division II senior race in 16:00.72, and 27th overall.
The big meet featured races by grade and division. CdM's junior girls appeared to have posted the most dominating effort of the meet to win their division.
Led by Powers, the Sea Kings had seven runners in the top 16, including: Kristen Rivera (second in 19:07.56), Megan Zwerling (5th, 19:39.22), Kylie Walker (9th, 20:39.14), Alex Dickens (12th, 20:47.33), Sara Silverman (14th, 20:48.65) and Sarah Hoppe (16th, 20:56.07).
Powers' older sister, Melanie, the team's top runner last year, graduated in the spring and now runs for Wake Forest.
The younger Powers says she is motivated by the pressure she feels as she tries to maintain the family tradition at CdM. She wants to be the Sea Kings' top runner.
"I feel a lot of pressure," Powers said. "It motivates me because since she went to such a prestigious college, I feel like I have to too, just to follow that.
"There's competition there because we are so close in age. I keep a log of her times and I see how I measure up against her. I think I'm doing pretty good. I'm pretty close to her times when she was my grade."
Powers' passion to become the Sea Kings' top runner is key for a team that appears to be in transition. Yet, the CdM girls always have high standards, as the program is one of the greatest in the state, perhaps the country.
Last year, CdM won its seventh CIF State Division III title, tying for the most in state meet history. It came a week after finishing runner-up at the CIF Southern Section Division III meet.
But gone are Melanie Powers, Kristina Funahashi and Marisa Cummings.
"We are going to be very strong," Ashlee Powers said. "Every year we lose a lot of runners. From the beginning of the summer till now, we have improved. We're going to have a great team next year too because we are so young."
The Sea Kings' win in junior girls' Division III wasn't the only team victory. The CdM senior boys also won, as did Ellen Naruse, individually, in the girls' Division III freshman race in 19:41.42.
In the girls' Division III junior race, Estancia's Erika Garcia led the Eagles, finishing 19th in 21:03. Coach Charlie Appell, 63, began his 21st season at Estancia in the season-opening meet.
He said the boys' program struggled in numbers recently, as there are just nine runners on the team this year, the fewest in Appell's tenure.
He said the problem stemmed from working at TeWinkle Intermediate, as a special education teacher last year. He couldn't stay in touch with the runners consistently because of his schedule at the junior high. But now he's back at Estancia and he said he's happy because he's coaching runners who really want to be a part of the program.
Costa Mesa's Raquel Friedmann led the Mustangs, finishing 21st in 21:08.68 in the girls' Division III junior race.
In contrast to Appell, Steve Moreno is in his first year as coach of the Costa Mesa boys' and girls' teams. Moreno was hired early in the summer.
He had been coaching runners who compete in Masters meets. He said he was looking for an opportunity to coach at Costa Mesa, as he lives in town with his wife, Helen, his assistant.
Moreno, a native of Sanger in the Central Valley, said settling into his new gig has been smooth with the help of parents and boosters.
He also took the runners on a trip to Big Bear last month to help the unity process.
Costa Mesa did not have enough runners to field a team in the girls' Division III junior race. Estancia finished sixth. Sage Hill, led by Rannah Dabiri (80th, 25:18.16), finished ninth.
The CdM girls finished second in the Division III senior race, led by Devon Hoppe (20:44.01). Costa Mesa's Hunter Strodel was 10th in 21:20.78.
Sarah Frost led Sage Hill as she finished 44th in 25:47.41.
Newport Harbor's Tori Sarris finished 12th in 20:03.29 in the girls' Division II senior race.
The Sailors' Lauren Clemence was 38th in the girls' Division II senior race.
In the boys' Division III senior race that CdM won, Sumner was impressed with Zach Asdourian (9th, 16:44.85), Alex Turney (10th, 16:45.83), Peter Morris (11th, 16:52) and Kjell Wolker (14th, 17:18.81).
Sumner said Turney and Wolker showed him that the Sea Kings might find success on the boys' side too.
Alemar Brito led Sage Hill in the boys' Division III senior race, finishing 27th in 17:55.61.
Estancia's Jorge Carrizal led the Eagles, as he came across in 42nd in 18:43.07.
Little wasn't so small in the boys' Division II senior race. His steady drive during the course's final hill pushed him past two runners and he passed another on the straightaway to finish sixth. It appeared his hard work has been paying off. The 6-foot-4 red-head said he logged 750 miles while training with junior teammate Jake Barber in the summer.
CdM's Blake Myers used a new strategy to finish fourth (16:09.69) in the boys' Division III junior race. Midway through the race, Myers picked up the pace and led for about a mile. But because he used so much energy he did not have a kick at the end. Palos Verdes Justin Onno did and won in 15:44.95.
Costa Mesa's Robert Blackwell finished ninth in 16:48 to lead the Mustangs, while Jack Percival was 15th in 17:08.98 to lead Sage Hill.
Myers, who went to Sage Hill his freshman year, said he will try a different strategy next week at the Woodbridge Invitational. The meet will start at Estancia High, at Jim Scott Stadium, and goes into Fairview Park.