Great Oak’s cross country teams won big at the recent 2016 CIF Southern Section Finals in Riverside as well as the State Championships in Fresno. Both teams came in first at the Southern Section finals as the girls’ team achieved their seventh CIF championship in the past eight years, with five consecutive wins, and the boys’ team won their second title in a row. With the boys’ and girls’ teams now ranked No.1 in the state and receiving national acclaim, their recent accolades had their sights set on the top of the podium for the California State Meet as well as this week’s Nike Cross Nationals.
Solomon Fountain proved he can run with the best in the state by taking fifth place at the Southern Section meet and Sydney Belus marked her return to elite status by taking third place. Coach Soles lists senior Solomon Fountain as one of the top runners and a leader this season, having a 4:10 mile time.
For the girls’ team, Soles states, “We actually have five girls that have taken turns being the No. 1.” Regarding Evelyn Mandel, Kiyena Beatty, Nicole Rice, Sydney Belus and Sandra Pflughoft; Soles believes these rotating winners “give us flexibility that no matter who’s having an off day the other girls are going to step up.” This mostly senior group of varsity girls is described as very close, saying they’re motivated to run well for their teammates, as they push each other harder, working together. The boys’ team also concurring that they are motivated to run faster for their team.
Wrapping up the Southern Section finals for the boys’ was Gavin Korby, who stepped up big time after being called upon to run at the last minute and took 26th place and freshman Devin Ito was the third fastest ninth grade girl in the meet, helping the girls’ win by 95 points, while the boys came out on top by 40 points.
The Wolfpack teams also swept at the Cross Country Division 1 CIF State Meet, claiming titles for the third consecutive year. This year, for the sixth time in the last seven years, the girls won the title and were led this time around by senior Nicole Rice (17:32.5) who finished in third place. Seniors Evelyn Mandel took eighth place (17:43.1), Kiyena Beatty finished 11th (17:53.315.), Sydney Belus was 15th (17:58.620). Junior Sandra Pflughoft came in 20th place (18:08.9). The Wolfpack Girls scored 47 points to beat Davis by 20 points. Davis finished second to Great Oak in last year’s championship meet by only 2 points and were hoping for a different outcome this year.
The Great Oak Boys’ team was well in front of second place finisher, Dana Point, winning by a score of 66 to 102. Senior Solomon Fountain paced Great Oak with a third place finish (15:20.7), juniors Jacob Korgan (15:30.0) and Carlos Carvajal (15:36.5) finished 10th and 15th, senior Justin Eipp (15:48.20) took 26th and junior Gavin Korby was 32nd (15:56.2).
Junior Olivia O’Keeffe from Davis was the State Individual Champion with a time of 17:28.9. Sophomore Lauren Peurifoy from Martin Luther King was second.
The Vista Murrieta Broncos girls’ team, led by sophomore Peyton Candaele (18:32.6) and seniors Amelia Strahan (18:58.8) and Julie Diaz (18:59.4) finished seventh in the CIF State Championship.
The Wolfpack travels to Portland, Oregon, to the Nike Cross Country Nationals Meet in Portland next week. The boys’ team is the defending National Champion. The girls’ team placed third last year.
Runners describe this past CIF win as confidence boost or “a steppingstone to the bigger picture, which is state and nationals,” says runner Jacob Korgan. For the coaches, the CIF Southern Section finals are the first time the runners go all-out in the season, allowing them to gauge their level and see what improvements still need to be made.
Each season the athletes set their goals for the season, working toward contending for the titles at the State and Nike Cross Nationals this year. Working toward their own goals yield increased motivation and effort, as well as that “the athletes have gotten to a mindset that they can compete at the highest level,” says Coach Soles. As Great Oak’s program is based on competing for the upcoming State and Nike Cross Nationals titles, they visualize their goals of winning those races throughout the season.
Training-wise, Great Oak Cross Country runners are encouraged to stay focused on development year-round, rather than solely working toward competition. “I think Soles has created a training program that aims to balance winning championships and making sure we’re still progressing as a team and getting faster,” explains junior Carlos Carvajal. Coming to practice during their holiday break reveals how dedicated these runners are to their goals, and shows how they consistently work hard and make sacrifices for their team. With regards to the rigorous training within cross country, Coach Soles believes that harder training makes the races the easiest part for the runners, and allows them to go into meets confident. Soles reflected on how Great Oak’s Cross Country Team didn’t start winning titles until 2010, and they are now unmatched, continuing to build a legacy and a reputation, showing how hard their team continues to work and their rewards for the effort put in.
Coach Soles believes cross country is a strong part of Great Oak’s SPIRIT. According to him, Cross Country runners have some of the highest grade point averages for athletes on campus, and are extremely passionate about what they do, as well as cheering on other sports as part of a community that is happy to see each other succeed. Great Oak is also shown to have a strong impact on the runners, as they try to work as a part of the school, and representing it during their time there and post-graduation.
Most of the seniors plan on pursuing running in college, with Evelyn Mandel already signed with Texas Christian University and Sydney Belus committed to University of Arizona. They are looking forward to continue running in college, and it shows how the work they put into running has allowed for educational opportunities. As most the seniors finish this year of lasts, feeling excited and sad, they emphasize putting forth their best effort with the team to continue this ongoing legacy. Meanwhile, the junior boys say they are looking to gain more confidence and upper level experience running senior year.
*Article contributions made by Valley News Sports Editor, JP Raineri.