Grossmont, El Capitan boys cross country teams run to state championship meet berths

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Photo by Phillip Brents The Grossmont High School cross country team captured its first San Diego Section cross country championship in the East County school’s long history by scoring a meet low 34 points at last Saturday’s Division II finals at Balboa Park’s Morley Field

The Grossmont High School boys cross country team performed so far beyond expectation that it left head coach Ross Bartell speechless after the final points were tallied at last Saturday’s San Diego Section championship meet at Balboa Park’s Morley Field.

The Foothillers won the Division II boys title with a division low 34 points in out-distancing runner-up Mt. Carmel (45 points).

Grossmont, the top team at the preceding conference finals, placed four runners among the top 10 finishers, and all five scorers among the top 15, to win in blockbuster fashion.

“We’ve come a long way — this is the first CIF championship for the school,” Bartell said with an obvious air of pride about the history-making accomplishment. “I’m kind of speechless at the moment. I’ve been coaching for 18 years. These guys mean a lot to me. They believe in each other. The look in their eyes at the starting line told me that they were going to do this.”

Teams can enter seven runners in a championship race with the top five place-finishers scoring points by order of finish. The team with the lowest score wins.

A half-mile into the three-mile race, Bartell admitted he was getting a bit nervous because his team was so far in front.

“We were doing better than I thought they would be at that point of the race and I was getting a little worried that they would be able to keep it up,” the Grossmont coach said.

Junior Russell Blakley, this year’s Grossmont Conference boys champion, quickly moved to the lead in the 113-deep field. Mt. Carmel junior Tommy Bell assumed the lead position a mile into the race and it looked to be a possible sprint to the finish between the two elite harriers.

But Blakley dropped back heading into the final uphill and was replaced in the second-place position by classmate Ian Rosen.

Bell won the division title in 15:30.7, followed by Rosen in 15:35.7. Mt. Carmel senior Owen Carter finished third in 15:40.5, followed by Blakely in fourth place in 15:43.4.

Grossmont’s star power continued as senior Kai Okura finished sixth in 15:51.0 and junior Joshua Edwards placed eighth in 15:56.6 — a spread of 13 seconds between the Foothillers’ top four scorers.

Junior Mason Coyle sewed up the team championship as the team’s fifth scorer in 14th place in 16:16.2 to give the Foothillers a five-man spread of 41 seconds.

“He was the reason we won by 11 points and not squeaking by winning by one point or losing by one point,” Bartell said.

Appropriately, Coyle received the division sportsmanship award.

“I wanted to get out but have a good pace,” Coyle explained. “My strategy was to start picking off runners as they went up the hill but that changed. I started picking off more runners coming down the hill. I moved up 15 to 20 spots.

“Winning the team championship means everything. It was a goal we really wanted since our sophomore year to achieve.”

The top three teams in the division standings qualified for this Saturday’s state championship meet in Fresno. Joining Grossmont and Mt. Carmel for a celebrated trip north are the Scripps Ranch Falcons, the race’s third-place team with 110 points.

State championship results can be accessed via www.cifstate.org.

The top five individuals on non-qualifying teams also received state qualifying berths.

Juniors Dominic Rizzo (seventh, 15:54.3) and Bradley Bell (10th, 16:02.8) will both represent Steele Canyon at this weekend’s state meet after leading the Cougars to a fourth-place finish in the Division II boys team standings.

Liberty Charter junior Micah Sanchez (15:33.6) finished fourth among individuals in the Division V boys race to earn a trip to the state meet as an individual qualifier as did Liberty Charter senior Bethany Mapes (third, 18:35.2) in the Division V girls race.

Vaqs are back

The El Capitan High School boys cross country team has managed to bridge the COVID-19 pandemic with back-to-back state qualifying berths in a show of resilience and determination.

The Vaqueros finished second at the 2019 San Diego Section championship meet to earn a state berth as one of three qualifying teams in the division.

El Capitan posted a third-place finish at this year’s section finals. The Vaqueros and Cathedral Catholic both finished with 110 points, well behind team champion Hilltop’s 95 points. The Lakeside team was officially awarded third place on the sixth-man tiebreaker.

But nothing was a given, according to El Capitan coach Tyler Ludwig.

“We knew we had the chance to be in the top three if we ran well,” Ludwig said. “To lose in the tiebreaker might seem a little disappointing but we accomplished our goal to make the state meet as a team.

“At the start of the season, we weren’t expecting a big push. We’ve been steadily improving. We had a couple kids out with COVID. It took a lot of time for their lungs to return to 100 percent capacity. They came through for us at the right time.”

Hilltop, in winning its first division title since 1984, finished 2-7-18-30-42-51-75 in the 112-deep race. Cathedral Catholic’s numerical tally included a 4-9-26-34-41-53-84 order among individual place-finishes.

El Capitan’s seven runners finished 12-16-22-25-39-62-65. The Vaqueros’ five-man spread was 58 seconds with the team’s top three scorers finishing within 30 seconds of each other.

The top 20 place-finishers in the race received medals.

Senior Dominic Villarruel led El Capitan across the finish line with a time of 16:07.6 for the three-mile distance. Sophomore Austin Boinus was next in 16:23.1, followed by junior Trey Dixon in 16:37.9 and senior Logan Powers in 16:43.5.

Junior Elias Rudolph finished as the Vaqueros’ fifth scorer with a time of 17:05.8.

Cathedral Catholic’s fifth scorer, senior Liam Walsh, finished 34th in 17:00.00.

El Capitan finished six seconds out of second place in the team standings.

Also competing in the Division III boys race were regular season Grossmont Valley League champion Santana (eighth place, 140 points), West Hills (12th place, 310 points) and El Cajon Valley (15th place, 467 points).

Santana senior Mark McCowin was the top individual East County finisher in 11th place with a time of 15:58.3 — nine seconds ahead of Villarruel in 12th place.

Santana had two more medalists in the race: juniors Connor Cheary (14th, 16:21.5) and Cameron Thomas (20th, 16:32.8).

Girl power

Santana junior Mikayla Horning, the top female finisher at the 2021 conference finals, placed 21st (19:54.5) in the Division III girls race.

Steele Canyon (Division II) and Liberty Charter (Division V) both finished fourth in their races — one berth out of a state qualifying spot. Steele junior Graziella Mineo (20:14.5) and Christian freshman Faith Patterson (21:22.7) both earned a medal by finishing in 17th place.

Grossmont, El Capitan boys cross country teams run to state championship meet berths