The San Diego Section fall sports playoffs have come — and mostly gone — as usual for South County teams. Let’s face it, there is no longer a level playing field when it comes trying to match up against North County teams braced by athletes whose families have the necessary income to support year-round activities in elite club sports.
Yes, football might be slightly different with its year-round emphasis on the weight room and off-season camps. But for the so-called minor sports, it’s become a fact of life for area athletes.
Thus we need to relish in our successes when we do excel despite the stacked deck.
And there was something to celebrate at last Saturday’s San Diego Section cross country finals on a rainy Morley Field course when the Bonita Vista boys team qualified for this weekend’s state meet in Fresno. The Barons finished third in the Division II race — 85 points behind winner Ramona and 56 points behind runner-up Mt. Carmel but, more importantly, 12 points ahead of fourth place Point Loma.
The top three teams in the division advanced.
After finishing second to Otay Ranch in the Mesa League dual standings and second — by a scant point — to those same Mustangs at the league finals, Bonita Vista finally recorded its breakthrough moment to define its 2010 season.
Otay Ranch finished fifth in the Division I boys race, without any individual qualifiers, and instead will be cheering for the Barons this weekend.
Bonita Vista’s girls team, which finished third at the league finals, also had something to cheer about on the dismal day as Sofia Garcia advanced to the state meet as an individual qualifier, placing seventh overall in the Division II field.
Otay Ranch, the league juggernaut, again produced no individual qualifiers, nor did the league runner-up Eastlake Titans, both competing in the rugged Division I race.
Surprising, yes. Disappointing, yes. But that’s the beauty — and horror — of post-season competition — one never knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to shine that day (despite the weather, at least this year) and who’s going to be dealt a bad card.
Eastlake senior Trent Warren, who recorded a meteoric second-place finish behind Bonita Vista senior Shin Agbede at the Metro Conference finals, finished a distant 86th at last weekend’s CIF finals.
“Unfortunately, I had to run ill,” he said. “I thought I had a good shot at state.”
But there was a silver (er, bronze) lining to the gray day.
Collectively, the Barons put their best foot forward.
Agbede, who bested Warren by eight seconds at the league finals, turned in a ninth-place individual finish at this year’s Division II championship meet with a time of 16:41 on the 3.04-mile course.
He was closely followed by teammate Casear Castillo (16:49) in 11th place while teammates Jason Hardin (17:04) and Jose Suarez (17:24) finished 19th and 26th, respectively, in the field of 141 finishers. The Barons’ fifth scorer, Christian Kelley was 56th in 18:08.
Bonita Vista’s top four runners emerged with a spread of 43 seconds on the muddy course.
Kevin Yen (18:18) and Jacob Sherman (18:27) rounded out the team's seven-man contingent.
BV coach Ed Winczowksi said his team owes its success to a "surprise" showing.
"When our No. 5 guy started falling back, we knew it was going to be close," the BVHS coach said. " But Christian Kelley saved the day. This proves anything can happen in cross country. This is his first year of cross country and he was way down our depth chart at the beginning of the year and all of last track season. Around mid-season he started talking about how he couldn't wait to be on varsity and how he loved running. I was a bit shocked because as early as August he hated it. From that day forward he started moving up our lineup. Even better, he loves running now!
"Our team has shown great improvements this year from the top to the bottom of our lineup. It's great to be able to end the season with accomplishing one of our goals."
Agbede finished 21 seconds behind race winner Dylan Blankenbaker of Ramona. The Bulldogs, in fact, scored the top three finishers in the race, with the trio finishing an amazing eight seconds apart.
This is Agbede's third trip to the state meet after qualifying with the Barons twice and once as an individual. Bonita Vista finished second at the section finals two years ago to earn a trip to Fresno.
"I am especially happy for our seniors," Winczowski said. "Shinaola, of course, has worked really hard. He always does so he expects to get to state one way or the other. And Jason Hardin got to our team via starting off as a JV lineman on the football team. He wanted it really badly."
Steele Canyon, this year’s Grossmont Hills League champion, finished fifth in the team standings — 40 points behind the Barons.
Helix (sixth), Scripps Ranch (seventh), Serra (eighth), Westview (ninth), Monte Vista (10th), Valhalla (11th), Hilltop (12th), San Marcos (13th), West Hills (14th), Kearny (15th), El Cajon Valley (16th), Southwest El Centro (17th), Oceanside (18th), Hoover (19th), Orange Glen (20th) and Morse (21st) rounded out the division standings.
Hilltop had two runners crack the top half of the field: Shane Murphy (57th in 18:08) and Michael Schenk (63rd in 18:14).
Joining Garcia as individual state qualifiers from the South Bay are Castle Park sophomore Miguel Lopez (eighth in the Division III boys race), Castle Park sophomore Keeshawna Jackson (14th in the Division III girls race) and Chula Vista Calvary Christian Academy junior Christian Quidang (third in the Division V boys race).
Garcia navigated the 2.75-mile course in 17:26. She finished 57 seconds behind race winner Meghan Breadmore of Point Loma but only 20 seconds behind runner-up Shelby Garritson of Orange Glen.
BV running mate Cristina Hernandez was further behind, placing 26th in the field of 131 finishers in 18:20.
The Barons finished fifth as a team, with four runners finishing in the top third of the field. Kristen Lamprecht was 35th in 18:37, followed by Elena Jurado in 41st place in 18:51 while Maria Johnson was the team’s fifth scorer, placing 48th in 19:02. All seven BV runners finished in the top half of the field.
Hilltop placed 14th in the team standings.
Westview, Valhalla and Mt. Carmel sewed up the top three team state qualifying berths.
Hernandez was third and Garcia was fourth at the preceding league finals, separated by three seconds.
Winczowski said Garcia "turned the corner" on her running at the Eastlake dual meet on Oct. 22.
"She ran almost as well as she ever has at Discovery Park and has not looked back," the BVHS coach said. "We're all happy for her, because she ran ran a very smart, patient race and showed her experience to qualify for state. She could have easily packed it in earlier in the season, but didn't."
(Otay Ranch sophomore Carina Gillespie turned in the fastest time by a female Metro runner at this year's section finals but finished three seconds below the state cut in the Division I race.)
Meanwhile, CP’s Lopez — the reigning South Bay League individual boys champion — timed 16:48 in the 138-deep Division III boys race. The league champion Trojans finished a ninth in the team standings, up six spots from last year — 79 points ahead of 11th place Mar Vista.
"That was our main goal for the meet -- to improve from last years result at CIF," CP coach Juan Lozano said.
Castle Park had two runners place among the top 20 finishers and placed four runners in the top 50 percent of the field. Alex Garcia was 18th in 17:10 while Cristian Flores was 63rd and teammate Jesus Ortiz was 64th, both with 18:34 times.
Ernesto Sanchez turned in Mar Vista’s top time of 17:47 in 33rd place while Alejandro Rosario was Montgomery’s top finisher in 50th place in 18:13.
Montgomery finished 15th in the team standings — three points ahead of 17th place Olympian. Southwest placed 19th out of 20 teams.
Olympian’s top runner was Jairo Hernanedez (78th, 18:41) while Southwest’s top runner was Augustin Barreto (95th, 19:26).
Cathedral Catholic, Valley Center and El Capitan were the top three team finishers in the Division III boys race.
CP’s Jackson — the reigning South Bay League individual girls champion — continued her amazing season by turning in a time of 17:49 in the Division III girls race — good enough to nail down the fifth and final individual qualifying spot.
Olympian’s Kioana Smith (18:04, 26th) and Mar Vista’s Karley Tena (18:11, 29th) were too far back for consideration in the 113-deep field.
Clairemont, Cathedral Catholic and University City were the top three teams. Castle Park was 12th and Olympian was 14th.
CCA’s Quidang finished the Division V boys race in 18:25 — 23 seconds off the winning time of Julian’s Daniel Smith. The Royal Knights, however, finished seventh in the team standings. Lutheran, the other South County school entered in the race, was 10th.
Julian and Pacific Ridge topped the field in the 65-deep race.
Otay Ranch’s top four spread in the Division I boys race was 20 seconds but the Mustangs five-man spread of 47 seconds was not good enough to secure a state qualifying berth in a deep and talented field. Steven Martinez was 16th in 16:57 — 23 seconds behind the last individual state qualifier.
Rancho Bernardo, La Costa Canyon and TorreyPines were the top three teams, with Otay Ranch finishing three points behind fourth place Carlsbad.
All five Mustang scorers finished in the top third of the 155-deep field. Josh Roach was 20th in 17:00, followed by teammates Gus Tunks in 27th place in 17:13, Zachary Velasquez in 31st place in 17:17 and Carlos Rangel in 46th place in 17:44.
The Mustangs’ total time on the course was 1:26:11; Bonita Vista’s total time of 1:26:06 was the best of any Metro boys squad on the day.
Eastlake (15th), Sweetwater (16th) and Chula Vista (17th) all placed well behind Otay Ranch in the team standings. Senior Jose Serrano-Flores (45th, 17:41) was Chula Vista’s top runner while Sweetwater’s top runner was senior Tito Hernandez (64th, 17:58). Eastlake was led on the course by sophomore Zac Zasueta (76th, 18:12).
In the Division I girls race, Otay Ranch finished sixth in the team standings. Among individuals, top Mustang Carina Gillespie was 14th in 16:43. However, there was a gap of exactly one minute until the next Otay Ranch runner crossed the finish line. Juliana Corrao was 38th in 17:43, followed by Catie LeDesma in 39th in 17:48. Karla Gadea (55th, 18:05) and Brenda Hernandez (58th, 18:09) rounded out the Mustangs’ five scorers in the 152-deep field.
La Costa Canyon, Torrey Pines and Rancho Buena Vista were the top three teams.
Gillespie — the reigning Mesa League individual girls champion — missed the final individual state qualifying berth by three seconds taken by Mission Hills senior Marlene Estell (13th, 16:40).
Mesa League runner-up Eastlake finished 11th in the team standings, followed by Chula Vista (16th), South Bay League champion Sweetwater (17th) and San Ysidro (21st).
Freshman Ridley Gatlin led Eastlake on the course with a 57th place finish in 18:07 while SuHi senior Prisma Mendoza was 66th in 18:17, SY senior Carla Hernandez was 78th in 18:35 and CV freshman Yoceline Ramirez was 84th in 18:48.
Mater Dei Catholic finished sixth in the Division IV girls race and 10th in the Division IV boys race. Mallory Davenport was 30th in the 73-deep girls field to lead the Crusaders while MDC’s Assael Madrigal was 56th out of 108 finishers in the boys race.
CCA’s Melissa Valderrama was 17th in the 33-deep Division V girls field in 22:48.
For complete race results, visit www.crowncity.com/sdtrackmag.