WALNUT — Rain or shine, Ashlee Powers prepared to run the hills at Mt. San Antonio College. The course changed once she and her Corona del Mar High girls' cross country team arrived early Saturday morning for the big race.
"We actually were going to park and they told us we can't park there," said Powers, who learned the parking lot turned into part of the course at the CIF Southern Section championships.
Constant rain altered the usually challenging three-mile race, making it slicker, flatter and longer.
Powers' game plan changed and she was not happy about it. The only uphill battle for her now was to get over the fact that she would not be running up any hills, mostly on asphalt.
The junior refocused and finished the 5K race in fourth place in 18 minutes, 41 seconds, leading the Sea Kings to a third-place finish in the Division III event.
CdM came up short of returning to the top of the division for the second straight year. Palos Verdes finished first with 87 points, ahead of Woodbridge (111) and CdM (117).
The Sea Kings just have added motivation heading into next week's state finals in Fresno.
"Last year we got second here [at the section finals] and we won the state meet," CdM Coach Bill Sumner said. "Today we got third, so anything's possible."
Powers believes the young Sea Kings have what it takes to three-peat as state champions.
The state crown in Division III has belonged to CdM in four of the past five years. If the Sea Kings are able to prevail again, they will have eight state titles, the most of any program in California.
Sumner said he is making no predictions. He is just thankful the CdM boys are joining the girls at Fresno's Woodward Park for the first time in three years.
The boys made the Division III cut, placing seventh, 12 points ahead of the nearest competitor, San Juan Hills.
"We squeaked by," said senior Austin Barvin, who will gladly take it after the Sea Kings barely missed qualifying for state last year.
The same cannot be said for the Sage Hill School boys' and girls' teams, which finished 10th and 12th, respectively. No one from the Lightning advanced to state in Division V, ending a six-year run in which Sage Hill sent a runner or team to the big meet.
Orange Lutheran senior Ava Kent, a Costa Mesa resident, qualified for the state meet as individual, becoming one of three athletes in school history to reach the meet all four years. Kent finished 11th in 19:10 in the girls' Division III race.
The CdM girls seemed more excited about the boys moving on to state than their own result Saturday. The outcome at the section finale was not the one CdM wanted, not after its run of five straight section titles ended last year.
For the second straight year, Sumner said he has been working with six new runners in his starting lineup. Inexperienced girls are performing once again for the Sea Kings.
Only one senior is part of the group. Devon Hoppe turned in a strong time, 19:33, giving her 23rd place and the Sea Kings' second fastest mark. Junior Kristen Rivera was right behind (19:36, 24th), followed by freshman Ellen Naruse (19:46, 33rd) and sophomore Shelby Perez (20:07, 48th).
"Naruse has been running No. 2 for us," Sumner said. "Today she was No. 4, but she's a freshman. She's doing a great job.
"People always say, 'Are you going to rebuild?' We don't rebuild. I don't even believe in rebuilding."
The girls under Sumner just seem to reload every year.
The Sea Kings' top five finishers in the boys' race were junior Blake Myers (16:42, 32nd), Barvin (16:42, 33rd), senior Peter Morris (16:59, 52nd), senior Alexander Turney (17:07, 63rd) and senior Derek Satterfield (17:09, 64th).
After making state, Morris said the team had big plans Saturday night.
"Oh my God! Do we get to go see Harry Potter now?" Morris said. "We're going to go soaking wet."
Sage Hill sophomore Chris Andras' first section final meet at Mt. SAC ended with him drenched.
It was almost worth it until Andras missed qualifying to state as an individual by four seconds. Andras turned in a 17:18, which put him in 18th place. Only five individuals, not on teams placing in the top seven in Division V, advanced to state.
"On a really good day we thought we could make it," said Andras, who after his race avoided the rain by standing underneath a canopy next to his teammates, sophomore Brennan Hicks (18:06, 50th), senior Alemar Brito (18:12, 57th), junior Jack Percival (18:19, 63rd) and sophomore Ryan Fishel (18:23, 66th).
Sophomore Sophia Witte led Sage Hill's girls with a 21:35, good for 32nd place. Junior Naomi Granados (22:28, 53rd) was next, followed by junior Caroline Grant (23:08, 62nd), junior Sophia Herzlinger (23:56, 82nd) and sophomore Campbell Moore (24:28, 93rd).
"We have a lot of young kids," Sage Hill Coach Nate Miller said. "I'm looking forward to next year."