Champs cross country nationals have Sanchez’s name written on it

Liberty Charter High School senior Micah Sanchez, cheered on by a large group of local supporters, finished 25th out of 40 runners in the boys race at last Saturday’s Champs Nationals Cross Country Championships at Balboa Park’s Morley Field. Photo by Ron Becijos

It had a new name but last Saturday’s Champs Nationals Cross Country Championships (formerly Foot Locker Nationals) had the same great field.

This year’s event showcased three San Diego Section runners – two in the girls race (La Jolla freshman Chiara Dailey and La Costa Canyon junior Gioana Lopizzo) and one in the boys race (Liberty Charter senior Micah Sanchez).

Each gender field was comprised of 40 qualifiers – 10 each from four regional championships (Northeast, Midwest, South and West).

The West regional took place Dec. 3 at Mt. San Antonio. Lopizzo (18:05) placed second in the 82-deep field behind Ventura sophomore Sadie Engelhardt (17:43) while Dailey was third (18:11). Sanchez placed fifth in the 180-deep boys field in 15:33, trailing race winner Samuel Hansen of Bountiful, Utah, by 13 seconds.

Sanchez won the Division V section title before going on to capture the division title at the state meet.

Liberty Charter senior Micah Sanchez represented the San Diego Section in the national championship boys race. Photos by Ron Becijos

Dailey and Lopizzo (Division III) and Dailey (Division IV) both won their respective divisions at the section finals before going on to place second in their divisions at the state meet.

All runners competed on the same 5K course. Racing conditions were ideal at Morley Field, producing fast times.

Dailey was the top local finisher in 14th place while Sanchez was 25th and Lopizzo was 29th.

Karrie Baloga, a senior from Cornwall Senior High School in New Windsor, N.Y., won the girls race in 16:49.2. It was the eighth-fastest time in the 43-year history of the event.

Baloga, a three-time participant in the national championship event, used her past experience on the course to overcome a deficit against junior Ellie Shea (Belmont, Mass.) at the two-mile mark. Prior to pulling away in the final mile on the uphill/downhill part of the course, Baloga had also been engaged in a battle with senior Paitlyn Noe (Huxley, Iowa) after the trio had broken away from the field at the halfway mark of the race.

It was one of the most competitive races in recent memory. Shea finished second in 16:55.1 (five seconds behind Baloga) while Noe placed third in 17:01.5 (six-and-a-half seconds behind Shea and 12 seconds off the Baloga’s winning time). Sophomore Abby Faith Cheeseman (Bell Buckle, Tenn.) placed fourth in 17:13.4 while senior Ciara O’Shea (Richmond, Ky.) was fifth in 17:21.5.

Dailey timed 17:51.7 in moving up late in the race to finish 14th while Lopizza timed 18:30.2 to finish 15 places back.

By placing among the top 15 finishers, Dailey earned third team All-America honors as the lone freshman in the gender field.

Star-spangled runners from across the United States, Alpine’s Micah Sanchez included. Photos by Ron Becijos

Kole Mathison, a senior from Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind., won the boys race in 14:56.6. He found himself in a four-way duel for first place through the middle part of the race before dueling senior Rocky Hansen (Hendersonville, N.C.) after timing 9:38.9 at the two-mile mark with Hansen right on his shoulder.

Mathison finally pulled away as Hansen faded from contention, eventually yielding second place to senior Noah Brecker (Plymouth, Minn.) in 15:07.5 (11 seconds behind Mathison). The field caught up as runners surged toward the finish line with Brecker edging West region champion Samuel Hansen (15:07.7) by a scant two-tenths of a second.

Senior Hunter Jones (Thompsonville, Mich.) had set the early pace in the field with a 4:37.6 split at the first mile.

Sanchez timed 15:40.9 to settle for 25th – 44 seconds off Mathison’s winning time and 32 seconds behind the West region winner.

The Alpine runner admitted he had yet to run in such a competitive field and eventually tired because of the fast pace.

Besides individual place-finishes, team awards also were presented based on race scoring.

The Northeast won the girls competition with 32 points, followed by the South with 38 points, Midwest with 66 points and West with 96 points. The Northeast posted the top two finishers (Baloga and Shea) and four of the top seven.

The Midwest won the boys competition with 18 points, followed by the Northeast with 61 points, West with 65 points and South with 87 points. The Midwest ran away from the field with five of the top six place-finishers.

Overall, the top seven runners in the boys race were separated by 17 seconds.