A week-long trip to Mammoth has become an annual bonding ritual for the Laguna Beach High girls' cross-country team.
The 2012 Breakers recently returned from the getaway, which included high-altitude training, and are preparing for their upcoming season, one that includes several outstanding competitions. Laguna hopes the season culminates in late-November with another trip to the CIF State Meet at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Woodward Park is familiar ground to the girls' program, which last year earned a sixth-place Division IV State finish. The Breakers will be looking for a repeat trip to Fresno this fall with a lineup that includes seven returning varsity runners, including sophomore Janie Crawford, who last year was the team's No. 2 runner behind senior Natasha Strickland.
Strickland is running this year at USC. Another key figure gone from last year's team is four-year runner Marisa Merchant, who is now at San Diego State.
"We have a very deep team with some very strong front runners," Laguna Coach Steve Lalim said. "We are young, but have a very competitive group of girls. Our team has set some very realistic goals in which we seek a podium finish at the state meet. I expect us to be as good or better than we were last season, where we finished sixth at the state meet."
League: Orange Coast
CIF Division: IV
Head Coach: Steve Lalim (fifth year)
Coaching staff: Mike Berger; Dana Crawley
2011 league finish: Second place
2011 CIF results: Fifth place CIF-SS Div. IV finals; sixth-place CIF State Championships
Returning varsity runners: Janie Crawford (all-league, Soph.); Olivia Clark (Soph.); Carlee Ressler (Soph.); Eliza Romero (Jr.); Monica White (Jr.); Kay Baskevitch (Jr.); Audrey Rodriguez (Jr.).
Newcomers: Katie Grayden (Soph.); Maddy Kristensen (Fr.); Darby Winson (Jr.); Amy Hewlett (Soph.); Natalie Kimball (Soph.); Pearl Shoemaker (Fr.).
The schedule: The Breakers launch their season Sept. 8 at the Laguna Hills Invitational. The first month of the schedule includes a trip north to the Stanford Invitational and a week later, the team is back up north for the Clovis Invite. "These meets will give (us) a good idea where we stand," Lalim said.
Coach's take: "I am very excited to see this young team grow, and develop the confidence to take us to the next level," Lalim said. "We have been training together since July 16, and these girls come to practice everyday ready to work. We practice with a purpose, and we understand that we can accomplish great things this season. This team is ready to compete. I see it everyday at practice. We're ready."