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Saugus dynasty starts and ends at once

Boys take 1st place, Girls take 2nd at the CIF State Cross Country Championships

Posted: November 30, 2013 6:06 p.m.
Updated: November 30, 2013 6:06 p.m.
The Saugus boy's cross country team recieves its trophy after its race at the CIF Boys Division II State Cross Country Championship at Woodward Park. The Saugus boy's cross country team recieves its trophy after its race at the CIF Boys Division II State Cross Country Championship at Woodward Park.
The Saugus boy's cross country team recieves its trophy after its race at the CIF Boys Division II State Cross Country Championship at Woodward Park.

FRESNO – The term “Saugus dynasty” has been given new meaning.

In recent years, that phrase was referring specifically to Saugus girls cross country and its seven consecutive state championships.

The boys just staked a little bit of their own claim to that label.

Between the two Saugus teams, only the boys came away with a win at the CIF State Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.

While one of the most impressive streaks in state history comes to an end for the girls, the Saugus boys finally got over the hump and won a state Division II championship after coming up just short in two of the last three years.

It is the first boys state title in school history.

“It was just excitement, relief. I didn’t really know what to think exactly,” said Saugus junior Brian Zabilski of the win. “I’ve just never experienced something so great before. I’ve never had such a feeling of accomplishment before.”

The boys celebrated their first state crown in school history not much more than an hour after the Saugus girls found out they finished second in Division II, losing by a razor-thin 97-102 margin to Simi Valley.

The performance was a vast improvement from a week earlier at the CIF-Southern Section finals, where Saugus placed sixth for its worst finish at the event since 2004.

“Of course there’s disappointment,” said Saugus junior Sabrina Janes, who was her team’s No. 2 finisher. “Especially Saugus, seven years, state champs. I think, yeah after the race it sucked hearing second place. You want first place so bad. You’ve been working for six months straight. But going from sixth last week to second this week there’s nothing more that we could be thankful for.”

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day at the office for the Saugus Centurions, who go home with a first and second place team finish for the second year in a row.

For the boys team, Zabilski was the top finisher, as he’s been nearly the entire season. He was fourth place in 15 minutes, 22 seconds on the 5,000-meter course to help Saugus beat out Westlake High 110-139.

Last year, Zabilski and company settled for second in state behind the same Westlake team, and Saugus was also second place in 2010.

Headed into Saturday, the Centurions carried a No. 1 ranking in state Division II and were coming off a CIF-Southern Section Division II title a week ago.

Zabilski and teammates Alex Pearson and Billy Anthony all ran for last year’s runner-up finishers and returned this year to reversed the roles of the girls and boys teams.

“That was really the flagship program today,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. “It was the boys who won the state meet and not the girls. And that’s important. How often have the boys been better than the girls? Never. This is the first time.”

After Zabilski, Ethan Walker crossed the finish second for Saugus at 34th place in 15:54, followed closely by Pearson at 37th in 15:56.

The team’s final scoring runners were sophomore Ryan Tate (45th, 16:01) and junior Jordan Serrano (48th, 16:03). The team’s non-scoring runners were Anthony and Chris Ochoa, at sixth and seventh, respectively.

Despite the fact that Saugus came in as the favorite to win on paper, the first two-thirds of the race were as tight as can be. The top four teams in the race were within nine points of each other headed into the last mile before Saugus pulled away.

“It’s such a big deal for us because coming here last year and losing, it was such heartbreak and waiting for the results this time was exactly the same as it was last year,” Walker said. “That’s why we did it. For all the teams that got so close and then couldn’t. This is for them.”

But while the Centurion girls leave Woodward Park without the big trophy for the first time since 2005, Saturday’s result was as impressive an effort as many on the team could have imagined after last week’s disappointment.

The team's result at CIF-SS finals left Saugus in an unfamiliar underdog role on Saturday going up against a strong Division II field and a stacked Simi Valley team.

“It took us really wanting to prove it more than anything, wanting to get out there and fight and give everything we’ve got,” said Saugus’ No. 1 runner, Samantha Ortega, of the finish.

Ortega recorded her second straight individual podium finish and record-breaking performance at Woodward Park with a third-place mark of 17:27. That bested her own SCV course record by 5 seconds.

She was second place last year and was one of just two returners on the team from last year’s state meet, along with team No. 6 runner Darby LaPlant.

Senior Abigail Frankian would have been another key returner for Saugus, but she’s been out with a torn plantar fascia since September.

The girls Division II race was won by Simi Valley senior Sarah Baxter in 16:43 as she claimed her fourth individual state title in a row.

She paced a Simi Valley team that led by a staggering 54 points over Saugus with a mile to go in the race.

But as Saugus typically does, it saved its best for last and nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.

“In many ways, I’ve had so many people come up and say, ‘Of all your seven state championship performances, this was the most impressive performance, finishing second,’” Paragas said.

After Ortega, Janes was 13th in 18:06, followed by Mackinzie Moncibais in 18:29 (22nd), Ashley Heys in 18:45 (42nd) and Amanda De Jesus in 18:57 (54th). Darby LaPlant and Megan Tuinstra followed as non-scoring runners.

Note: Another streak ended for the  Saugus girls on Saturday. After qualifying for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore. each of the last seven years, Saugus failed to make it to the unofficial high school cross country national championships. Saugus' boys team also fell short of qualifying. California is sending four teams in each gender based on the results of the state meet with all divisional races combined. The state also sends five individuals in each gender, which means Saugus' Samantha Ortega has an outside shot. The final individual qualifiers will be announced in the coming days.


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