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Otay Ranch cross country team looks to shut the door once again on league title Phillip Brents | Fri, Sep 09 2011 01:03 PM

Impending divisional realignment could paint a rather interesting picture for teams in the two highest enrollment divisions within the San Diego Section cross country community. Some teams are expected to drop from the Division I to the Division II level, putting a decidedly new spin on the latter division, in particular.

If such comes to pass this season, a potential beneficiary could be the Otay Ranch High School girls cross country team. The Mustangs, one of the rising Division I programs, return six of their top seven runners from last season and could be poised for something great, including a possible trip to the state meet, sometime in the near future.

That will be determined on the race course, and lends support to the old adage of “that’s why they run races.”

The ORHS girls team returns its top two runners — juniors Carina Gillespie and Catie LeDesma — who coincidently finished first and second, respectively, at last November’s Mesa League championship meet. Gillespie, a two-time state track meet qualifier, timed 15:44 on the 4,440-yard Rohr Park layout. LeDesma, one of three triplets on the team, crossed the finish line 14 seconds later.

The only runner not returning this season among the Mustangs’ top seven finishers is graduate Karla Gadea. Head coach Ian Cumming feels his team has the depth to fill in that spot.

“The girls were one of the stronger teams in the county last year (sixth at last year’s Division I finals) and have worked hard to move up the ladder in terms of making a run at qualifying for the state championships,” Cumming said. “The girls had their best summer of training so far which allows them to carry their strength all the way through the end-of-season championship meets.”

Otay Ranch finished with a meet low score of 27 points in securing last year’s league title — nearly double that of runner-up Eastlake.

“Catie LeDesma and Carina Gillespie should be the front runners on the team throughout the season having raced very competitively with some of the best runners in the county last year,” Cumming said. “Their strength should help them be more consistent and stay in the lead pack in some of the season’s top races.  As with Catie and Carina, our other top girls are much stronger this year than in the past, which should help us do very well especially late in the season.”

Other top runners include Andie LeDesma, Blanca DelaRocha, Juliana Corrao, Brenda Hernandez and Bailie LeDesma. 

Andie LeDesma and DelaRocha finished seventh and 11th, respectively, at last year’s league finals while Hernandez and Corrao were 14th and 15th.

Cumming noted there are several other runners who could move into the team’s top seven throughout the season.  Perhaps most promising so far are Charlene Bernarte and Monique Aguiano.  “Our depth is good and should help us throughout the season,” the ORHS coach said.

Defending the boys team’s league championship will be a little more challenging for the Mustangs, who lost two of their top three and three of their top five finishers at league finals to graduation.

Cumming said hard work and commitment can go a long way in making up for impact losses, especially given the team depth that permeates the ORHS program (126 student-athletes came out this season). The Mustangs lost, by Cumming’s estimate “three to four very good runners” to graduation the year before last, yet came back to win last year’s league title.

He expects the same type of commitment this season. “The boys worked very hard this summer, so they will be able to challenge for the league title,” he said succinctly. “They are definitely a determined group and there is a lot of talent also.”

Steven Martinez (third at last year’s league finals) and Zach Velasquez (ninth at last year’s league finals) look to be the team’s top two returners.  However, noted there are many other runners who will refuse, in his words, “to be pigeon-holed into a given spot on the team.” Among that highly competitive group so far are Michael Barker, Andres Fernandez, Carlos Rangel,  A.J. McGough and Rodrigo Baez. 

Rangel just missed earning first team all-league honors (top 10 finishers) with an 11th-place finish at last year’s league championships.

Cumming further noted there are between five to eight more boys who could move into the team’s top seven.  “Our depth will be very good as it is on the girls side and maybe even deeper,” he said. “Many of these unnamed runners are going to be highly motivated to move up the proverbial ladder.”

As for impact newcomers, Cumming said it was too early in the season to single out any individuals. “There are others on both the boys and girls side who will start slowly and finish very well,” he said. “We will have a better idea after two to three races.”

The cross country season steps off locally with the Mustang/East Hills Realty Invitational, set Friday, Sept. 9 at Rohr Park. The South Bay Invitational follows Sept. 23, also at Rohr Park.

There will be a new spin on the Mesa League this season as Chula Vista moves to the South Bay League and Olympian moves to the Mesa League.

Said Cumming: “It is going to be different not having Chula Vista in the Mesa League. It was a great rivalry for so many years, but Olympian has many more runners this year than last, including a few very talented performers and should improve a great deal with their new coaching staff.”

The Mustangs prime challengers once again rate to be Bonita Vista and Eastlake. Cumming noted both teams “look to be very strong again.”

 “Both Ed Winczowski (Bonita Vista) and Joe Stubbs (Eastlake) do a great job of preparing their teams to compete well,” the ORHS coach said.

The Mustangs edged Bonita Vista by just one point, 33-34, at last year’s league finals. Eastlake finished third with 67 points, followed by Chula Vista, Hilltop and Mater Dei Catholic.

“Hilltop has some very talented runners on both the girls and boys side and this could be the year that it all comes together for them,” Cumming said. “Mater Dei gives up quite a bit in school population but they have a few very talented and spirited runners for both the girls and boys.”

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