Woodbridge runners turn the page

Newsflash – Woodbridge High has a good cross country program.

OK, so maybe it's not news that Woodbridge's boys' and girls' teams once again are expected to be the teams to beat for the Pacific Coast League titles. But this year it's a little different at the top.

Warriors coach George Varvas has stepped down to an assistant's role to create an opportunity for new head coach Bryan Pacheco.

"It's exciting for me," said Pacheco, 37. "I enjoy cross country, I enjoy working with the kids and running with the kids.

"And Varvas is still here. I was able to convince him to stay this year and we'll take it year one year at a time. I hope he'll stay longer. It's nice having him around to help and he's there whenever I need him or have any questions."

Pacheco was an assistant with the cross country program for four years at Woodbridge before getting his chance to lead it this year, inheriting a program that proudly boasts the defending boys and girls league champions.

But Pacheco is quick to note that teams change from year to year, and both the boys' and girls' teams lost some of their top runners. Last year, Dragan Simic won the boys' individual league title, Molly Babcock won the girls' title and both have graduated, as did other top runners from last year's teams.

Pacheco is intent on keeping the program in stride, but said he doesn't feel the weight of expectations from outside sources.

"The most pressure I feel comes from myself," he said. "The team we have this year is not the team we had last year. On the girls' side we lost three of the five scoring girls. On the guys' side we only have two of our varsity athletes out of the top seven.

"I want my kids to do well. It's important to me that they do well. So I put far more pressure on myself to be sure we do as good as we can do."

Both the boys' and girls' teams have gotten off to a good start. Last weekend Woodbridge hosted the Woodbridge Classic, one of the top cross country meets in the nation.

The boys ran a team time of 79:58 to finish 65th overall, and the top seven runners each posted a PR (personal record). The girls ran a team time of 91:17 to finish in 16th place overall.

The girls' team is ranked No. 9 in Orange County and No. 7 in CIF Southern Section Division 2. Maddie Bradford is Woodbridge's No. 1, followed by Alyssa Gutcher, Kyle Oefelein, Alexis Abad, Olivia Rodriguez and Ana-Paola Laveaga.

"These girls have been with us for several years," Pacheco said. "They're good athletes and they've moved into their varsity spots very nicely."

The boys' team is led by No. 1 Jackson Marshall, followed by Jake Suiste, Ralphy Lara, Jonah Bonner, Christian Choi, Darius Chriss and Justin Larios.

Marshall, Suiste, and Chriss are juniors; Lara, Bonner and Choi are sophomores. Among the top seven, Larios is the only senior.

"It's a young team and it's a building year," Pacheco said. "Our goal is to try to win league and make it to CIF. There are some good teams in league this year, which will make it a challenge.

"I'm excited for them because it's not like last year when we were going to lose a lot of our top level talent. They're all (except for Larios) going to be back next year and they're only going to get better.

"If we can challenge for the league championship, go to CIF prelims, try our best to make it to CIF Division 2, they're setting themselves up for a great year next year."

Pacheco said that Northwood and Corona del Mar will pose the biggest threats to the league championships, but his kids will be ready.

"It'll be a challenge – it certainly won't be an easy league," he said. "But we're moving in the right direction."

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