Saugus' Quest For 10 Highlights State Cross Country Finals
Its gym walls are full of banners and plaques, the principal’s office is full of newspaper clippings, and head coach Rene Paragas' classroom is full of trophies, each with a different tale to tell.
The track, meanwhile, is marked by the footsteps of past champions.
You can’t see them, but they’re there.
There’s a certain ring to the goal Paragas and his illustrious cross country program at Saugus High School craves most this Saturday.
A win at this weekend’s CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno wouldn’t just be another state championship win for the Saugus dynasty, it would be the 10th consecutive one.
What’s being called, “the quest for 10,” could turn into a decade of excellence if Paragas and this year’s varsity girls team gets this one right.
"For us to win again this year and bring on a 'decade of excellence' would only unite the past and present Saugus teams even more," said senior team captain Ashley Heys. "While only seven girls can race Saturday at the state meet, it took far more athletes to accomplish something as special as 10 state championships."
Of the 60 Foothill League varsity, junior varsity and frosh/soph boys and girls championships you can win in a 10-year span, Saugus has won 51 of them, and at the sectional level, the team has claimed nine CIF titles at Mt. San Antonio College.
It's the program's streak of nine state championships the Centurions hope to keep alive this weekend though.
"The fact that the Saugus program has been successful nine times back-to-back shows that is is not a rare exception of talent or a coincidence," said Sydney Suarez, who will be racing in her first state championship event. "Nine different teams, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, have decided from day one to do anything it takes to be successful."
Every year Saugus is hit with injuries and other obstacles, yet almost every year, they overcome them.
This year has been no different.
Heys struggled with a back injury, Suarez suffered from shin splints, sophomore Mariah Castillo was in a boot for nearly three weeks due to a sore shin, and Jacqueline Cascione fought bronchitis less than a month ago. The quartet still rebounded, along with front-runner Kaylee Thompson, senior team captain Emma Bahr, newcomer Mackenna Park, and senior Sierra Pilarski, to win the program's ninth CIF Southern Section championship in 10 seasons by just four points over Serrano High School of Phelan last weekend.
All eyes are focused on this Saturday, where the Saugus girls will line up at 11:45 a.m. for a chance to win its ninth championship in 10 seasons (the boys won in 2013!). Only the San Francisco University girls' cross country program has won more, winning 10 crowns between 1996-2012.
"The numbers in itself is an inspiration," said Suarez. "It kind of reminds me that there is nothing we are going through that another team hasn't dealt with. All different variations of teams were given the same opportunities that we are and now it is our chance to show what we can do."
And if Saugus wins 10 in a row Saturday?
Former Saugus runner Alex Pearson said it best.
"When people look back at the Saugus dynasty, they won't say the Saugus girls won 10 straight state championships, they'll say the Saugus program did " said Pearson, a runner at Utah Valley University. "The 10th title isn't just another win for us, it marks the 10th straight time we as a program have given up so much to come together and make something amazing happen, and that nothing has been taken for granted."
Golden Valley's Tinoco making return trip to where it all began
When healthy Golden Valley's Bianca Tinoco is one of the best ever.
She proved that Saturday, when she out-kicked Saugus' Kaylee Thompson to finish fourth at the loaded CIF Southern Section Division 2 Championships, which qualified her for the state championships.
Tinoco will make the return trip to where it all began Saturday.
In 2012, Tinoco finished seventh at the state finals at Woodward Park in Fresno. Her 5K mark of 18 minutes, 9 seconds, ranked No. 2 on Santa Clarita's all-time freshman list, trailing only the great Kaylin Mahoney.
She'll have a chance to duplicate that performance this weekend, when she steps on the startling line after an impressive finish last Saturday.
Her chances look great, considering she's improved each week. At the Foothill League Championships she out-lasted the Saugus trio of Thompson, Ashley Heys and Sydney Suarez to become the first non-Saugus runner to win the individual girls Foothill League championship since Hart's Brooke Russell won back-to-back to crowns in 2003-04.
A week later she finished sixth in 17:24 at the CIF Southern Section Division 2 Preliminaries in Riverside. That performance led the Grizzlies to a finals berth.
Both those races were impressive, but it was her section final run that flashed the brilliance the SCV once witnessed three years ago.
Bianca Tinoco has it all.
She's talented, hard-working, and experienced.
Most of all, though, she's shown the desire to return to the state championship form she celebrated as a freshman in 2012.
She's also one of those athletes you can't root against.
How could you?
Her climb back to the top has been just as inspiring as any other story this year.
All-Time Top 20 SCV Girls List @ Woodward Park
West Ranch looks for podium finish in first state meet trip
"I guess you could say the state meet has always been the focus from the minute I stepped into this program freshman year. At the time we had never finished better than last in league. There had always been an emphasis on qualifying for state, but it was largely a fantasy."
Yet here Painter and his Wildcat teammates are, just two days away from the biggest moment in school history.
All-Time Top 20 SCV Boys List @ Woodward Park
The West Ranch boys team has been money all season long, impressing at several big-time invitationals around the state, winning the program's first-ever Foothill League championship and qualifying for this weekend's big dance with a sixth-place finish at last Saturday's CIF Southern Section Division 2 Finals.
Painter admits a podium finish is the team's goal, although the Wildcats have the talent to contend with teams like West Torrance, Loyola, Agoura, Mira Costa and Canyon of Anaheim for the state championship.
"The goal is the same as it's been all season - to win," said Painter, who will attend Dartmouth University next fall. "Given how we performed last week I'm sure that would garner some skeptical looks, but I still believe it's very much within our ability."
Painter will be joined by veterans Tucker Welker, Justin Sherfey, Jack Arnold, Joshua Tan, Hunter Covarrubias, along with newcomer Preston Pope.
The program is familiar with Woodward Park, having competed there at the Clovis Invitational in October. They finished a solid 12th place without Painter.
This time they're not looking to finish so far back. Painter will join the defending Foothill League champions and says anything less than a podium finish would be a disappointment for the program.
They're not bothered by the fact that this is their first time in a state final either.
I've always like the way Dathan Ritzenhein talked about heading to the starting line - if you've done all you could in training then there's nothing to fear."
Saugus' Tate looks to duplicate Zabilski's historic 2014 run
The Santa Clarita Valley had never produced an individual high school boys state champion in the cross country until last November.
That's when Saugus' Brian Zabilski used a 4:36 final mile to put away Jurupa Hills' Michael Terran to win SCV's first-ever boys crown.
Ryan Tate, a junior at the time, remembers watching his teammate celebrate his victory. How could he not? It was historic.
"Brian winning last year is a huge motivation because I feel like if Brian is able to do it, I'm able to due to the fact that I have beaten some of his records this year," said Tate, who will attend Utah Valley University with former teammates Alex Pearson and Jordan Serrano.
Tate has won nearly every race he's run this season, winning the Palos Verdes Friendly Meet, the Sundodger Invitational in Washington, all three Foothill League championships and the individual sweepstakes race at the highly-competitive Mt. SAC Invite.
He's also taken down a couple Brian Zabilski school records, breaking his Palos Verdes and Central Park records in impressive fashion.
Those wins and records mean nothing compared to what's at stake at Woodward Park in Fresno this weekend though.
Only four - Zabilski, Shannon Murakami, Kaylin Mahoney, and Lauren
"The goal is to win, and it has been for this entire season, said Tate. "This year, I'm better physically, emotionally and mentally because I'm No. 1 now and have to step it up, so I don't let the team down. Also I think I'm more mature because I have to be more a of a leader."
Whether those improvements are enough to get Tate to the top remains to be seen, but he can't be counted out.
He'll also have teammate Jacob Crosson in the state final race, which should give him the comfort needed to relax and run the race needed.
Crosson, a senior, finished 13th at last weekend's CIF Southern Section Division 2 Championships to qualify for state individually, a huge improvement considering before this season he was watching the Saugus teams make history injured on the sidelines.
With Tate eyeing the valley's second-ever individual boys state cross country championship, Crosson has his eyes on a top 15 finish, and perhaps a run at a top 10 and all-state first team performance this weekend.
All-Time Top 5 Team Times @ Woodward Park
Past State Champions
Hart boys cross country
'90, '91, '92
Canyon girls cross country
Canyon boys cross country
Saugus girls cross country
'06, '07, '08, '09, '10, '11, '12, '14
Saugus boys cross country
Golden Valley boys cross country
Lauren Fleshman, Canyon, '98
Shannon Murakami, Saugus, '05
Kaylin Mahoney, Saugus, '08
Brian Zabilski, Saugus, '14