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Metro Conference 2010 cross country preview Phillip Brents | Mon, Aug 30 2010 02:27 AM

The sport of cross country — Metro Conference, style — appears to be relatively immune to what South County coaches collectively refer to as the “North County hex.” That is, South Bay runners have generally had more success on the greater San Diego Section stage than athletes in other sports at Metro schools.

Few area cross country coaches would disagree with that assessment.

“We do have decent countywide representation every year,” veteran Otay Ranch coach Ian Cumming said. “It seems that one or two teams are in the county mix every year and that there are several athletes (from the South County region) in the top 10 at the CIF finals. When you consider there are 140 schools in the section and that several athletes from this area are in the top 10, that says something good about the programs down here.”

Cumming rates the South County region as the second-best geographic region in the county as far as talent goes. The top region, of course, would be North County.

That hasn’t changed but the South County does appear to have an edge now over East County programs, most of which compete at the Division III level.

Cumming attributes the Metro Conference’s increased stature to two things: good talent in the region and good coaching.

The Mesa League has developed into one of the section’s top cross country circuits, with Bonita Vista, Eastlake and Chula Vista annually pushing for recognition of their programs.

Conversely, Castle Park, Sweetwater and Montgomery have all been impact players over the past several seasons in the South Bay League. Longtime Mar Vista coach Benny Holt has the respect of everyone in both leagues for the number of quality runners he has turned out.

This year is no exception.

Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch’s boys teams both earned coveted berths in this year’s San Diego Section cross country preseason pool, with the Barons ranking sixth and the Mustangs ranking seventh. Otay Ranch earned the No. 14 nod in the girls poll.

Otay Ranch swept last year’s Mesa League boys and girls championships, with Bonita Vista securing runner-up honors in the boys field and Eastlake finishing runner-up in the girls field.

With both Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch boys squads having lost impact runners to graduation, the race is definitely on this year, so to speak.

“Both of those teams will be there but I also see a couple of other teams that might emerge,” said Cumming in reference to the coaches poll. “Chula Vista, Eastlake and Sweetwater all have respectable programs and Castle Park is on the build. We’ll be battling for the (league) championship with Bonita Vista but I expect both teams to be pushed along the way and challenged. Chula Vista will have a good team, especially its girls team. Art Johnson does a fine job there. Eastlake is deep and has some talent. Joe Stubbs has done a good job there with that program. We all should do very well.”

Otay Ranch Mustangs
Cumming sees the Mustang girls team as having the potential to move up the rankings as the season progresses. “We had a mostly freshman team last year and every one of our underclassmen last year is coming back,” he said.

Cumming also noted the fast finishes posted by two of his frosh sensations at the end of the 2009-10 season. Carina Gillespie qualified for the state championship meet in the girls 800-meter run while Catie Ledesma doubled at the Mesa League track finals by winning the girls 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs while setting school records in both events.

“Both of those freshmen improved greatly by the end of the season,” the ORHS coach said.
While Gillespie and Ledesma may be in the lead pack (Gillespie was third at last year’s league championships Ledesma seventh), the Mustangs have a stampede of runners following very closely behind.

“We have 12 to 14 girls who can be very good,” Cumming said. “But there are some teams down here that will come after us and challenge. It will be interesting.”

Cumming had similar things to say about the Otay Ranch boys team. “We’re 12-14 deep but just not proven yet,” he said.

Some of the team’s top runners include Steven Martinez, Josh Roach, Zach Velasquez, Gus Tunks and Sal Salinas. Velasquez and Tunks both earned all-league honors (as top 10 place-finishers) at last year’s league finals while Martinez was the runner-up in the JV finals.

Cumming hasn’t yet fully assessed the impact that newcomers to the program might make. He said a total of 130 student-athletes were cleared for this year’s cross country team.

Bonita Vista Barons

As for Bonita Vista? Expect the Barons to make a bid for both the boys and girls Mesa League team titles, particularly the former. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

“On the boys side, we have end of the season goals and are taking it one day at a time,” BV coach Ed Winczowski said. “The guys are also excited to be ranked sixth in the new coaches poll. I am as well, especially since I did not rank us that high. But they don’t mean squat and do not give us a trip to Fresno Thanksgiving weekend.  Fortunately, the guys know that as well.”

The Barons boys squad is led by senior Shinaola Agbede, the returning runner-up at last year’s league finals who went on to post a seventh-place individual place-finish at the Division I finals to earn a ticket to the state championship meet as an individual qualifier.

Also returning are senior Jason Hardin (13th at last year’s varsity league finals), junior Jose Suarez (16th at last year’s varsity league finals), junior Alex Dominguez (last year’s junior varsity league champion) and junior Cesear Castillo (18th at last year’s varsity league finals).

Winczowski said that while Agbede, the son of Southwestern College cross country coach Duro Agbede, may rank as the South County region’s top returning male runner, his team also has a plethora of talent from which to draw a consistently strong lineup.

“Shin is our No. 1 runner, but if you ask me who our No. 2 to No. 7 runners are, I can’t give you a set order because everyone keeps beating each other,” the BVHS coach said. “That’s a good problem.”

Winczowski said the season-long goal for the Baron girls team is to “improve, improve, improve.”

“We were very young last year and will be better,” Winczowski said. “How much is the question. We know our league will be very competitive again and could improve a ton and still finish in the same place as last year.  Either way, we hope to make teams earn it this year.”

Heading the 2010 BVHS girls team are seniors Cristina Hernandez  and Sofia Garcia. Hernandez was the runner-up at last year’s league finals while Garcia won the 2007 league championship.

 They are joined by sophomore Clarisa Hernandez  to form the core of this year’s squad.
Impact newcomers to the BVHS program include sophomore Jacob Sherman, who was injured during last year’s cross country season but came back run a fine track season in the spring, as well as freshman Denise Bautista and sophomores Kristen Lamprecht and Elena Jurado.

Eastlake Titans
Both the Eastlake High School boys and girls cross country teams will be “very young” this season, according to head coach Joe Stubbs. “We graduated a lot of runners last school year, but with that said, there is still good young talent on the team.”

Stubbs said he hopes to find that talent from the team’s youngest runners. "I am looking for a few freshmen to really improve as the season goes on," the EHS coach said. “Jorge Gil is a freshman, for example, with tons of potential.”

Top returners on the Titans boys team include seniors Trent Warren and Sean Stanko and junior Stevan Perez. The girls team returns Olivia Davis and Ana Gonzalez, twins Sarah and Jenna Garces, Carly Graff and Kaila Lawson.

Stanko finished eighth in last year’s Mesa League boys championship race to earn all-league honors (accorded to the top 10 finishers) and is the No. 3 male returner in the Metro Conference this season. Davis just missed earning a medal with a 17th place finish in the girls race. The top 15 placers earned medals.

Eastlake finished runner-up for last year’s Mesa League girls championship title. "Otay Ranch will be the pre-season favorite for both boys and girls teams, but that is why we run the races — you never know on any given day what can happen," Stubbs said. "We are really working out well as a team and look forward to the coming season."

The Titans will get a glimpse of their potential Sept. 4 at the Vaquero Stampede, the team’s first

Upcoming meets
WhatThe 2010 prep season steps off Sept. 4 with the Vaquero Stampede at Lindo Lake. The 15th annual Mustang/Phair Co. Invitational is set for a Sept. 10 running at Rohr Park, starting at 3 p.m.

Cumming, who serves as tournament director of the Mustang meet, said 35 teams are entered in this year’s field. Top section teams include Otay Ranch, Bonita Vista, Escondido, Valley Center, University City, Steele Canyon and Valhalla.

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