Steele Canyon hammers step off cross-country season in fine fashion

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The 21st annual Mustang/Phair Co. Invitational took place on Friday, Sept. 11, and attracted nearly 1,100 high school runners to Rohr Park in Chula Vista.

Student-athletes pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits under extremely trying weather conditions that featured elevated temperatures and high humidity levels. For many runners, just finishing was a personal victory.

The 21st annual Mustang/Phair Co. Invitational took place on Friday, Sept. 11, and attracted nearly 1,100 high school runners to Rohr Park in Chula Vista.

Student-athletes pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits under extremely trying weather conditions that featured elevated temperatures and high humidity levels. For many runners, just finishing was a personal victory.

The Steele Canyon Cougars, however, proved to be the hottest attraction on the course as both the boys and girls teams strode to team titles in their divisions at what is rated as one of the top meets in Southern California.

Front runners

Grossmont Conference runners clearly stole the spotlight. Steele Canyon sophomore Carlene Masar won the Blue Division girls varsity division while Steele Canyon junior Luis Pina did the same in the Blue Division boys varsity field. Monte Vista senior Ty Lopez got his season off on the right foot by winning the Silver Division boys’ varsity race. 

Masar finished 10 seconds ahead of Eastlake sophomore Leyla McFarland in a battle of defending league cross-country champions on the 2.3-mile course. 

Masar won last year’s Grossmont Hills League title before going on to post a seventh-place finish at the San Diego Section Division II finals; McFarland won the Mesa League title before going on to place fifth at the section Division I finals.

Both posted the same place-finishes at the state championship meet in Fresno – Masar was 34th in the Division II race while McFarland was 34th in the Division I race.

The duel between the two harriers has developed into a friendly rivalry. The duo paired in last spring’s 1600-meter prelims and finals races at the San Diego Section track championships, with McFarland placing ahead of Masar by 10 seconds in the prelims and Masar edging McFarland by five seconds in the finals.

“I knew how fast she was after running against her last year,” McFarland said. 

Masar appears to be making good on her season goals so far after opening the 2015 season by winning the girls sophomore race at the Wolf Pack Invitational on Aug. 28.

“I’m hoping to make it back to state and place higher, hopefully break the top 20,” Masar said after bettering her time at last year’s Mustang Invitational by 32 seconds.

The Lady Cougars, who finished third as a team at last year’s Division II section finals, topped Eastlake 34-56 in the scoring column at this year’s Mustang Invitational. Valhalla finished third with 100 points, followed by Bonita Vista with 101 points. 

Steele Canyon placed its top three runners among the race’s top five finishers and all five scorers among the top 13 finishers. The Lady Cougars’ five-person spread was 48 seconds.

“I was very happy with how we ran as a team,” Masar explained. “The girls have been training really hard coming into the season. On paper, we’re definitely stronger (than last year).”

Junior Shelby Wray finished fourth in the 74-deep field in 14:06, followed by Steele Canyon sophomore Lauren Farris in fifth place in 14:20. Junior Areli Diaz was 11th in 14:33 while senior Sarah Stabler was 13th in 14:41.

Valhalla junior Maria Van Antwerp finished 14th in 14:43 as the Lady Norsemen’s top finisher in the race. Valhalla’s remaining top five scorers followed in a tight pack: senior Geraldine Ayerdi (20th, 14:55), sophomore Aimee Uebersetzig (21st, 14:59), senior Maleia Bisera (22nd, 15:01) and freshman Ariana Martinez (23rd, 15:01).

The Lady Norsemen’s five-person spread was 18 seconds.

Pina, the runner-up at last year’s Grossmont Hills League boys cross country finals, navigated the 5K course in 16:40 to finish seven seconds ahead of runner-up Alex Barr, a junior from Scripps Ranch, in the 73-deep field.

Pina finished 12th at last year’s Division II section finals to qualify as an individual for the state meet (where he finished 71st in the field of 194 runners). He appears ready to pick up where he left off last season.

“I came in with the mind-set ready to win,” Pina said. “I have team goals to win league and win CIF and make it to the state championship together. My personal goals are just to PR.”

The Cougars recorded a division low 51 points, placing three runners among the top 12 finishers and all five scorers among the top 15 finishers to out-distance Valley Center (second place, 82 points), Valhalla (third place, 90 points) and Otay Ranch (fourth place, 100 points) in the team standings at last Friday’s invitational.

Steele Canyon is seeking to advance as a team to the state meet after placing sixth at last year’s section finals. “The boys looked strong finishing up,” Pina said in regard to last weekend’s showing.

The Cougars’ top five scorers also included senior Ken Lautner (ninth, 17:19), junior Dominic Garza (12th, 17:28), sophomore Matt Scarlett (14th, 17:32) and senior Matt Lightner (15th, 17:33). The teams’ five-man spread was 53 seconds.

Valhalla senior Alex Hernandez finished fourth in the race in 16:54 while sophomore teammates Trenton Sikute (17:12) and Kyle Gabrielson (17:26) placed seventh and 11th, respectively.

Lopez won the Silver Division boys varsity race in 16:38, finishing 14 seconds ahead of runner-up Awal Hussen, a senior from Hoover. Lopez was in contention to turn in a star-spangled season in 2014 before being sidelined by a knee injury with about a quarter of the season remaining on the schedule.

Lopez’s goals are to complete what he started last season.

“I want to win CIF and league and I want to get past state and go to regionals,” said Lopez, who bested last year’s time at the Mustang Invitational by eight seconds. “This is my first race this year, so I am one-for-one.”

Mountain Empire senior Makiah Salzano finished fourth in the Silver Division girls’ varsity race in 14:59.

This year’s Mustang Invitational featured nine races, including five junior varsity races and four varsity races.

Monte Vista freshman Damien De La Cruz won the Silver Division boys JV race in 12:43.

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