Photo by Rich Gonzalez, ESPNHS
Six-time defending state champion Saugus' girls, seen above during their warmdown, were pretty bunched together as well during Thursday's season-opening win.
By Rich Gonzalez
(PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif.) - It was termed a "mini meet" and multiple coaches from leading programs insisted Thursday's season-opening gathering at the famed Palos Verdes home course was to be low key by design.
Of course, try telling that to the Palos Verdes High School crew. Plane tickets to Hawai'i were up for grabs.
"I can't guarantee my kids will be holding back as much as I'd like," kidded Sea Kings coach Brian Shapiro beforehand, referencing the limited number of slots available for the team's in-season meet to the island next month. "They know Hawai'i might be on the line."
All joking aside, Thursday's season-opening clash featuring a Who's Who listing of top traditions yielded few surprises while signaling yet another strong year for these perennial powers. While these high-caliber teams were hardly going "all out" in this get-out-the-kinks Week One, low-stress experiment, stretching out the legs while in the company of esteemed competition helped eased into a season in the nation's most competitive distance running hotbed.
Six-time defending state champion Saugus High's girls juggernaut program cruised to a 33-59 triumph over Palos Verdes in a five-team meeting that included two squads tabbed #1 in the preseason CIF-Southern Section cross-country rankings. The victorious Centurions appear atop the Division 2 listing while Palos Verdes is the early title favorite in Division 3. Mira Costa, featuring individual race winner Abby Hong (11:54 for two miles), Peninsula and Corona - all three programs known for postseason success - also were on hand.
On the boys side, Palos Verdes returned the favor by besting the Centurions, 27-37. With senior Ryland Dreibelbis (pictured at left, Rich Gonzalez photo) leading, PV stuffed the finish chute with five of the top nine finishers, including its top four scorers gapping a mere eight seconds to set the table for the win. Saugus' Rodrigo Ornelas, revealing the by-products of a quality summertime regimen, opened a promising senior season to wn in 10:20.
While the season opener was contested over just miles of terrain, it's an abridged version of the the three-mile journey here considered the toughest and slowest layout on the CIF-SS landscape.
Although state championship weekend is nearly three months away, many of these same combatants could very well be in the mix in Fresno once Thanksgiving week rolls around.
Saugus coach Rene Paragas, who will focus solely on the girls program this fall, likes his team's chances come championship despite fielding another squad with limited varsity experience. A majority of last year's "Magnificent Seven" have since graduated, including three of its top four.
His optimism stems from the team's quality summertime training base combined with exceptional new leadership candidates on the roster.
Between last year's marriage and last month's arrival of newborn twins, Paragas admits his priorities have also re-shuffled to some degree, but feels both his and the team's competitive juices again will be factors down the road as the girls programs "doesn't want to be the ones known" to see their legacy halted.
Paragas' lineup might lack an All-American type frontrunner the program has often enjoyed in recent years, its fast-moving scoring pack this fall should provide major problems for all challengers. On this day, the Centurions boasted four finishers among the top eight, with that quartet gapping just 20 seconds.