SANTA CLARITA, CA — The Valencia Vikings Cross Country team stayed local this week to compete against the other SCV high schools in Foothill League Race #1. Although field sizes were much smaller than those found at recent invitationals, the competition was tough as multiple teams in the league are ranked in the CIF Southern Section.
The course at College of the Canyons was familiar to many of the Vikings, but a tougher variation of what they faced in previous races on the campus. Starting on the back access road of the campus, the race began with a long gradual uphill to the hilly dirt section awaiting them along the beautiful Interstate 5. Once they hit the dirt, they had two hilly loops to take on. The first, shorter loop took them by the campus vineyard and up the “Evil Twin” hill. This ascent is a challenge as the slope steepens the further you get up the hill finishing with a screaming throng of teammates, parents, and coaches asking for more of you at the crest. After a quick descent and a sharp (and slippery) 180 degree turn the second loop again takes them along the freeway. Far from the finish and hard for spectators to access, this section can be lonely for the runners. Thankfully horns of travelers along the interstate could be heard spurring the Vikings to keep the effort on as they approached the crown jewel of the SCV cross country courses, “Killer Hill.” A steep ramp up from the bottom with a second steep section at the top “Killer Hill” can take the snap out of racers’ legs as they traverse the undulating section across the top of the ridge. Thankfully, the last mile is a descent back on the access road and down to the track for the finish. Although early racers were thankful for pleasant morning temperatures, the sun was intense, and with little shade on most of the course, the heat was a factor in the later races.
Concerned for the forecast heat, the meet organizers changed up the usual league schedule and had the Frosh/Soph races start off the day. The boys team finished fourth with Frosh Alex Basin leading the crew with a tough 18:47. This was a super result for Alex as he ran close to his times from earlier races, but on a much tougher course. A bit under the weather and not quite recovered from a cold, Lincoln Gabbard was next at 19:35. Luis Torres Orrala ran a 19:48, only 8 seconds off his season best! Jake Robideau ran a solid 20:34 and Nate Patel sprang for a PR on the toughest course of the year with a 21:31! First race of the season for Asaf Makhmudov (21:56), Austin Pholot (22:22) and Enrique Lopez Santos (23:45) had them gritting through the tough hilly course and looking forward to another try in a couple of weeks. Not to be forgotten, Nehemiah Pop busts out another PR at 22:20 with Emad Ahmed (25:06) and Ryan Leon (25:17) filling out the team. This group is really progressing as they show that consistency and solid efforts pay dividends through the season.
The Frosh Soph girls met some tough competition with some Saugus ladies taking the field out to a quick start. Pulled along in the pack was Hannah Aina who started quickly and pushed through the second half with a 25:50. Sophie Tran had a strong finish using the last descent to reel in Hannah and finish a hair behind her also in 25:50. Gracie Brooke (26:37) rebounded from a difficult race last week to slot into the third scoring position for the Vikings. Shelly Nankoong had a spectacular debut in her first cross country race ever with a 27:17 while Emily Stimac showed her love for the hilly ascents also besting her effort from last week to a 28:34. This group of 5 finished third on the day and will be looking to pick off a few more ladies and move up the team standings at League Finals.
The Varsity Boys were excited to measure their fitness against the league and size up their expectations for a post season run. With three CIF ranked teams in the field, they knew strong running in the front of the race was a sure bet. Ayden Buchanan ran a controlled first mile hanging with the first pack until a slip and fall around the U-turn after the first loop. Remaining composed, he held his position for the remainder and looked very strong breaking 16 min over the hilly terrain for a 5th place finish at 15:59. Tyler Chang also heeded the coaches’ warnings and tempered his efforts for the first half. He moved assuredly through the field in the last 1.5 miles to finish 6th at 16:08. Grant Young gained some confidence in this one after coming off an extended absence due to illness; his 16:31 was a season best and a PR over 3 miles. The senior duo of David Simonian (17:21) and Jake Brooke (17:25) filled out the scorers for the Vikings. This duo pushes each other to the limit each week; might this be a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? I hope not! These two are the best! Emilio Oviedo (17:30) and Noah Flores (20:17) both struggled with illness and feeling their best this week. We are hopeful for a quick recovery for them both. Finishing 4th as a team, only 10 points away from 3rd puts the league on notice that the Vikes are not to be discounted this year.
The Varsity girls team took to the line as the temperature was rising out on the course. The heat and dust added to the challenging hilly terrain to make a pain potpourri for the Lady Vikings. Kami Grossman led the team, toughing out a 21:16. Right behind her was Lauren Tran in 21:26. Gianna Iezza (22:07), Freshman Liana Sushinski (22:33), and Sam Armitage (23:37) finished out the scorers for the Vikes, ending up 6th as a team on the day. Sara Aina (24:20) showed grit and improving fitness after struggling with injuries earlier this year and Maria Lopez (24:55) pushed through with a grumpy calf. The Lady Vikings will be looking to moving up in the standings at League finals with some better luck and strategic adjustments to pick off a team or two at finals.
Last race of the day for the Vikings had the JV boys looking to finish off both the suffering and the post-race snack buffet that had been calling their name all morning. Off a strong performance last week at the Woodbridge Invite (and at the choir concert the night before), Marcus Espinosa paced the Vikings at 18:28. Cruz Lanzer was also a consistent and steady performer ending the day at 19:13 with his twin Cole three places back at 19:42. Jacob Kunz (20:07) and Damien Turner (20:48) filled out the scorecard with the team placing second! Justin Yuh (21:01) and Tomi Lessis (21:25) rounded out the Viking squad. This group will get two more chances on this course with the SCV Invite in a couple of weeks followed by League Finals; no doubt we will see improvements across the team as they are better acquainted with the terrain.
Next week the Vikings travel out to Carbon Canyon Regional Park in the OC for a squad favorite race at the Brea Invitational.