The four-time U.S. champion in the event has some unfinished business to take care off after an agonizing performance at last fall's world champs. In that finals, Montano led from the gun and built up a sizable lead in the final 300 meters. The star with her trademark flower in her hair locked up in the last part of the event, though, diving for the line to take a respectable fourth, just .04 of a second off the bronze medal and .54 off the gold.
Montano has clocked 1:57.38 and 1:57.75 in the last two seasons. Her Santa Clarita Valley record of 1:57.34 was set in 2010, the same year she won a bronze medal at the IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Between March's Azusa Pacific University Distance Meet of Champions and December's Nike Cross Country Nationals are several noteworthy headlines, highlighted by this year's state finals in November.
The boys team returns fresh off the school's first-ever state crown, while Brian Zabilski and Samantha Ortega are the state's top returning division two runners. Add in a girls jaggernaut that brings back 12 of their top 14 and you have an interesting scenario -- the Saugus program has a chance to become the first in California state cross country history to win both team and individual championships in the same year if they can avoid injuries or illness.
On the Foothill League level, the girls squad will be seeking an unprecedented ninth title, another step closer to Canyon's record 12 straight (1994-2005), while the boys look to claim their eighth title in the last nine years.
First comes the spring track season.
After their heart-breaking five-point loss to Simi Valley at last year's state cross country finals, the Saugus girls distance team is looking to start off the year with a bang ... a 4x1,600-meter relay national record could do that.
The Lady Centurions' have been absolutely sensational when it comes to relay events, setting the state record twice, in 2008 and 2011. Last spring, the quartet of Abigail Frankian, Heidi Hoslet, Sabrina Janes and Ortega held the national-leading mark in the event, clocking 20 minutes, 21 seconds, at the Mt. SAC Relays.
The national record in the event is held by Suffern High School of New Jersey in 19:49 (converted).
Janes and Ortega will rely on Frankian's return, as well as Ashley Heys, Jessica Ruiz and Mackinzie Moncibais to challenge the 2006 record. Only one other team - Saratoga Springs of New York - has broken the 20-minute barrier.
Redondo currently holds the California state record, having broken Saugus' record twice as well (in 2010 and 2012).
On the boys side, the Santa Clarita Valley records in the 4x800 (7:58.39), 4x1,600 (17:28.26), and Distance Medley Relay (10:12.76) are all in jeopardy. Golden Valley set all three records in 2012.
All-CIF Southern Section and 4:18 miler Alex Pearson, all-state cross country runner Brian Zabilski and much-improved Ethan Walker lead a list of candidates capable of catapulting Saugus over these impressive records.
Individually, several names in the program could have break-out seasons this spring.
Sabrina Janes, coming off a super-successful 2013 year, returns as the Southern Section's top 800-meter runner. Janes success this year, however, may occur in the four-lap event after a 4:36 1,500-meter time trial in December.
Meanwhile, Samantha Ortega looks to erase the memories of last June's state 3,200-meter finals, an event where she lost her shoe and kicked a lap too early, resulting in a disappointing 11th-place finish and no school record. Lauren Fleshman's "untouchable" 10:18 SCV record, which dates back to 1999, could also go down this spring.
Brian Zabilski and Alex Pearson both hope to represent the boys distance program at this year's state track & field championships in Fresno -- Zabilski over 3,200 meters and Pearson in the 1,600-meter event.
Both Ortega and Pearson are defending Foothill League champions on the oval, while Ortega, Zabilski and the Saugus team - at all six levels - look to defend their Foothill League cross country crowns in the fall.
TOP 10 RETURNEES ~ Based off CP's "3-hill" course
Samantha Ortega, Saugus, Senior
Ashley Heys, Saugus, Junior
Kaylee Thompson, Valencia, Sophomore
Kyla Danforth, Canyon, Senior
Sabrina Janes, Saugus, Senior
Mackinzie Moncibais, Saugus, Senior
Jessica Ruiz, Saugus, Senior
Marisa Magsarili, West Ranch, Senior
Megan Tuinstra, Saugus, Sophomore
Darby LaPlant, Saugus, Senior
Brian Zabilski, Saugus, Senior
Caleb McClain, Canyon, Senior
Tucker Welker, West Ranch, Junior
Jordan Serrano, Saugus, Senior
Ryan Tate, Saugus, Junior
Chris Ochoa, Saugus, Senior
Ryan Painter, West Ranch, Junior
Lucas Holtz, Valencia, Junior
Jonathan Summer, Saugus, Senior
Austin Fischer, Saugus, Junior
Nelson was a 27-minute three-mile performer during her freshman campaign at Saugus High School in 2009.
Fast forward just five years ago and she's one of the best junior college female distance runners in California.
Having competed for powerhouse Glendale College over the last year and half, Nelson has been inspiring in every way, improving to 4:44.58 over 1,500 meters, which netted her fourth at the state track & field finals in the spring, and clocking 18:01 over Woodward Park's hilly 5,000-meter course, a performance that garnered her a bronze medal at the state cross country finals.
Her Glendale College career is over in just five months, but she still has a track season to go, and Nelson is one of the fastest returning 1,500-meter specialists in the state.
The big question is can Nelson, a novice runner less than five years ago, end her junior college career with an individual state track championship this May? Here's a list of the top 10 returning females over 1,500-meters:
1 Emily Bernath, Santa Barbara, 4:40.28
2 Becky Hobby, Modesto, 4:41.94
3 Lizzy Nelson, Glendale, 4:44.58
4 Raeanna Cortez, Orange Coast, 4:44.65
5 Karen Silvas, Orange Coast, 4:44.67
6 Rachel Naumann, Moorpark, 4:45.62
7 Maira Solis, Cerritos, 4:45.74
8 Paige Hughes, Cuyamaca, 4:49.74
9 Kathia Avila, Cerritos, 4:51.75
10 Nicole Barlett, Santa Barbara, 4:52.32
During her time at Saugus, the junior has won three individual Foothill League championships, earned all-section and all-state first team honors two years in a row, qualified for both Nike Cross Natationals and Footlocker Nationals, set a bucket of course, SCV, and school records, and led her team to section and state team titles.
Is there anything Ortega hasn't done?
The answer is yes.
For those who don't know Ortega, learn one thing about her: she always sets lofty expectations every season.
There's still a handful of tasks she could accomplish during high school.
For example, no Saugus distance runner has won an individual state crown in track. Not Kaylin Mahoney or Karis Frankian, or even the great Shannon Murakami. Former Foothill Leaguers Aly Drake, Alysia Johnson and Lauren Fleshman are the only females to do so. Fleshman is the lone state champion from Santa Clarita over 3,200m.
Speaking of Fleshman, the breakage of her SCV record (10:18.21) is long overdue. It's now 15 years old.
Last but not least, Sarah Baxter won't be returning with this fall's cross country season. She will have graduated from Simi Valley in June, leaving Ortega as the top returning cross country runner in California, regardless of division.
It remains unknown whether Ortega accomplishes these difficult feats this year or in spring 2015, however, get one thing straight -- all three will likely happen and when they do, there won't be an "arguably", "maybe," or "possibly" when it comes to who the greatest distance runner in Santa Clarita Valley history is.
Samantha Ortega will be the greatest of all-time.
It'll be interesting to see what and where she competes now that's she back training under her high school coach Rene Paragas. Here's her all-time bests:
800 meters - 2:10.03 in April 2006
1,500 meters - 4:25.10 in April 2010
1,600 meters - 4:42.50 in May 2007
3,000 meters - 9:30.91 in January 2010
3,200 meters - 10:26.02 in February 2010
5,000 meters - 16:28.97 in March 2010
10,000 meters - 36:40.10 in May 2011
Half-Marathon - Debut is on February 2nd
(See #2 below)
- Saugus boys cross country looks to defend their division two state championship
- Shannon Murakami's half-marathon debut in February (2016 U.S. trials "B "standard for marathon is 1:15:00)
- Alysia Johnson-Montano and the American record over 800 meters
- John Gilbertson at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Colorado
- A possible bid at the national 4x1,600-meter relay record by the Saugus girls
- The CCCAA 1,500-meter finals, possibly featuring Lizzy Nelson of Glendale College
- Saugus girls hope to reclaim the division two state crown, which would be their eighth title in nine years
- College of the Canyons men's team challenging for the junior college state team championship
- Brian Zabilski and Samantha Ortega eye individual state championships in cross country
- Can Samantha Ortega lower her 16:47 SCV record at Mt. SAC, which ranks #9 in course history?
- Sabrina Janes on the oval
- Will the COC Summer Cross Country Series go back to its normal course?
- The amount of SCV records expected to go down, including the girls 4x1,600m relay and 3,200m records
- Lauren Fleshman's return to the track after having a baby
- Timmy Sterkel and Jacob Velarde's Foothill League debut...
- Bianca Tinoco returns?
- Can Jameson Mora lower his own SCV half and full-marathon records?
- The SCV Marathon
- Samantha Ortega's college decision, either at the end of this year of at the beginning of 2015?
- Stephanie Bulder's senior cross country season at University of Arizona