Local cross country runners facing tough competition ahead
by Randy Angel
Cross country teams from Mira Costa and Redondo are off and running with demanding competitions on the horizon before they attempt to defeat a talented — and favored — Palos Verdes squad.
Mira Costa will compete in the Laguna Hills Invitational on Saturday, followed by the Iolani Invitational in Hawaii on Saturday, Sept. 15.
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Mustang head coach Roberto Calderon is optimistic about his boys and girls teams reaching the State competition. The boys are currently ranked 8th in CIF-Southern Section Division 1.
Top male runners this year are seniors Cy Chittenden, Cole Gamble, sophomore Cormac Carew, juniors Thomas Velvin and Alex Fiorito, senior JP Soares and sophomore Blake Hampton, and when he returns from an injury, junior Billy Atkinson.
“We are fortunate to be diverse,” Calderon said. “Last week, Cy had a stellar race at the PV mini meet finishing at 10 minutes, 14 seconds. (Former Mustang) Xavier Court, who finished 6th in State and was the CIF 3200m champion, ran the same course last year with a time of 10:06.”
Mira Costa began the season with a tri-meet that included powerhouse programs Saugus (No. 8, Div. 2) and Palos Verdes (No. 1, Div. 3).
Palos Verdes had five of the top 10 finishers as the Sea Kings strive for both a State title and possible Nike Cross Nationals qualification.
Chittenden led the Mustangs placing third (10:14.09). Also finishing in the top 15 were Gamble (8th, 10:26.95) and Carew (11th, 10:38.97).
“Chittenden and Gamble are both at top volume training, and both well ahead of their previous selves for this time of year,” Mira Costa coach Jeff Atkinson said. “Both have taken their preparation very seriously and done all the little things that make the big difference at the end of the season. Our toughest meets will be Mt. Sac Sweepstakes in Division 1 and just trying to qualify for the State meet.”
Both coaches feel this year’s competition in the Bay League is the strongest in history.
“The clear favorite is PV,” Calderon said. “Their senior class is one of the deepest in the nation. Coach Shapiro is an amazing coach. Costa boys have won the last three Bay League titles but it will take everything from our team and a little luck to claim the Bay league title this year. We also never underestimate Redondo.”
“The Bay League will be arguably the toughest it has ever been,” he said. “Redondo returns stronger than last year, Palos Verdes has its best team ever on paper, and we are statistically better than any Costa team this century. Of course all of that is meaningless if we don’t prepare properly and execute on race day.”
On the girls side, the Mustangs return all but one starter from last year’s State meet, including top runners seniors Brooke Inouye, Olivia Hacohen, and junior Pnina Tofler. Also returning are juniors Cara Chittenden and Tia Pappas along with senior Lucy Atkinson.
“We have added some depth with sophomore Jasmin Peterman and also have a newcomer in freshman Dalia Frias who has already worked her way into the varsity lineup,” Mira Costa coach Renee Williams-Smith said. “We have a little more depth than last year so this year’s team is enjoying having a solid group to train with on a regular basis.”
At the tri-meet last week, Palos Verdes junior Savannah Scriven won top honors (12:21.57) defeating Mira Costa’s Inouye (12:22.02) and Hacohen (12:22.67) who finished second and third, respectively.
The Mustangs had seven runners finish in the top 15 with Tofler (7th, 12:43.87), Frias (10th, 12:54.98), Chittenden (11th, 12:56.95), Atkinson (12th, 12:57.52) and Peterman (14th, 13:02.28).
“Our toughest meet this season will the Mt. Sac invitational which always showcases the best teams in the state and will really be the first time we get to compete against other D1 schools” Williams-Smith said. “We are currently ranked 3rd in the Southern Section D1 behind Great Oak and Vista Murrieta. We have our work cut out for us but this group is up for the task.
“The Bay league is always one of the toughest leagues in the state with Redondo (7th in D1) and Palos Verdes (1st in D3) always strong. All three teams have full squads returning this year so the competition should be exciting.”
Redondo off and running
Depth will be a strength for Redondo’s boys and girls teams this season as the Sea Hawks began the season with a dual meet against Santa Monica, and will run in the Cool Breeze Invitational Friday followed by the Woodbridge Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 15.
The boys return four-year letterman and team captain Ben Tait with senior mates Ariel Rodriguez, Patrick Henry and Sanjiun Lee.
“Ben is coming off a mild knee injury but expects to regain top form by mid season,” Redondo coach Bob Leetch said. “Jackson Chambers, a junior, will make a contribution coming off a fine track season and strong summer. Keep an eye out for newcomer Christoph Waligorski as he will be called up from the lower ranks as the season progresses.”
On the girls squad, seniors Isabella Landry, Peyton Heiden and Dominica Villegas are hopeful for deep postseason runs. Heiden is returning from an injury suffered last track season and expects to be a major contributor by mid season.
Molly Hastings, Allison Montgomery, Kasey Bohney and Shelby Bender will be top performers and round out the strong depth of this year’s team.
“The Woodbridge Invitational will be our first real test where the full squads will be racing together,” Leetch said. “The following meet we will travel to Seaside, Oregon for the Three Courses Challenge on Sept. 23. Obviously our Bay League races will be a high priority for both teams as we prepare for the postseason runs to CIF.”