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Newbury Park cross-country teams dominate at Woodbridge Invitational

The Newbury Park boys' cross-country team
The Newbury Park boys’ cross-country team — from left, race director George Vargas, coach Sean Brosnan, Aaron Sahlman, Lex Young, Leo Young, Hector Martinez, Aaron Cantu, Zaki Blunt, Colin Sahlman — poses for a photo after winning the 2021 Woodbridge Invitational on Saturday.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

A few seconds after crossing the finish line, Leo Young paused, staring at the electronic leaderboard.

The Newbury Park runner’s mouth was agape, sucking in air to fill depleted lungs that had just fueled him to a first-place finish at the Woodbridge Cross-Country Classic at SilverLakes Sports Complex in Norco. The blue screen flashed his three-mile time: 13:38.1, a second less than the record for the fastest time ever by an American high schooler — held by his brother Nico.

Young’s jaw dropped even further.

“I finished and I thought, ‘Wow, that was a good race,’ but … I didn’t think a record was in our cards,” Young said, eyes wide. “I saw that, and I was honestly like, ‘What just happened?’”

There was plenty of family competition on Saturday night at Woodbridge. In the boys’ sweepstakes, Young jockeyed for position the entire three miles in a Newbury Park quartet that also included his twin, Lex, and brothers Aaron and Colin Sahlman. The four, along with a girls’ team that placed three top-30 runners, secured a dominant all-around showing for the Panthers.

“Our guys, they want to be the best team ever in history,” coach Sean Brosnan said. “They’re not shy of it.”

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The Sahlmans, not the Youngs, had the fastest times through two miles. Yet for essentially the entire race, the four kept to a lead pack socially distanced from any other challengers — the fifth-place finisher, Kevin Sanchez of Vandergrift High in Texas, finished 18 seconds back of fourth place.

Aaron Sahlman finished second with a time of 13:42.3, Lex Young was third a couple of seconds later and Colin Sahlman fourth at 13:48. Young gave credit after the race to his teammates, particularly the Sahlmans, for setting the pace.

“I didn’t have to do any work until that last quarter-mile, when I decided to go,” he said.

On a fast, flat Woodbridge course, the Newbury Park boys shattered their own national record for team average — 14:14 — by 20 seconds at 13:54.

Brosnan said before the race that the girls’ goal was to finish under 17 minutes, and they hit that mark. Senior Sam McDonnell propelled the group thanks to a second-place finish, with a time of 15:54.6. Senior Morgan Nygren placed 27th and freshman Tiffany Sax came in 30th.

Eleven seconds ahead of McDonnell was Mira Costa’s Dalia Frias, who came around the final bend all alone in a wire-to-wire victory. Coach Renee Williams-Smith said Frias, a senior, “wanted this one.”

Despite the motivation, Frias was surprised to learn she’d broken a course record.

“I’m on cloud nine,” she said. “I definitely was not thinking about a meet record at all, but it’s awesome.”

Young has never attracted quite the buzz that brother Nico, now a runner at Northern Arizona University, received during his Newbury Park tenure. But this Woodbridge Invitational race saw him sprint ahead of his older brother’s long shadow.

““It was kind of a realization for me that, ‘Wow, I can actually be maybe as good as Nico was in high school,’” Young said. “It’s something that I didn’t think was possible. Even now, I still don’t understand.”


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