Posted by KING HIGH CROSS COUNTRY on Nov 19 2023 at 04:55PM PST

November 19, 2023

WALNUT:  During the CIF Southern Section D-1 Finals yesterday, the boys team could have been caught thinking about their ranking.  Of the 16 teams on the starting line, they entered the Final ranked 7th, and “7” has special significance at CIF.

But it’s not because 7 is a “lucky number.”  The sport of cross country has really no such thing; after all, there are no fumbles in the sport, neither are there trick plays, bad bounces, Hail Mary’s, penalty kicks or buzzer beaters from midcourt.  In cross country, you get three miles to prove how tough, talented and tenacious your top five finishers are. Add up their places and, at CIF Finals, if you place 7th or better, you move on to the State Championships.

So if the boys from King were obsessing over the number 7, one could understand.  Their pre-race ranking indicated a slim margin of error between moving on and going home.

With the rains that had fallen in prior days and were threatening again on Saturday, the meet officials at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt.SAC) pivoted to the “rain course,” which turned a “cross country” meet into a flat, concrete road race … that finished on a track.  So much for the hill work teams had done in preparation for Mt.SAC’s notoriously tough three inclines.

“Embrace the change,” head coach Alfonso Ibarra told them prior to the race.  The squad did just that and stitched together the race of their collective lives and bested their ranking by a place, finishing 6th overall which put them in the State Finals, to be held this weekend in Fresno.  It is the second time a King team has made it to the California State Championship, the last coming 8 years ago when most of this team was in 3rd or 4th grade.

Spearheaded by Maximo Zavaleta who finished 5th overall (and All-CIF), the team set a three-mile team time school record.  Bradley Quezada was 23rd, but Brayden Lunetta moved up 11 spots over the last 3 minutes of the race.  It was a strong move that pulled the team well ahead of Crescenta Valley who was lurking just 3 points behind the Wolves at that point.  Alex Wesolowski and Logan Carlson rounded out the scoring for King, giving the team 172 points, 18 ahead of Crescenta Valley who finished 7th. San Clemente won the race outright with 60 points.  Markos Pineda and Frank Stewart ran 6th and 7th respectively for the Wolves.

“I’m extremely proud of them and how they handled running on this new course,” said Ibarra.

The girls finished 9th overall, an outstanding achievement in their own right, given that they didn’t even make it out of league in 2022.  “They were disappointed,” said assistant coach Dalton Seckinger, “but I kept reminding them that they surpassed their pre-race ranking by 5 places!”

They did have a special race, the school’s highest finish since 2017.  Natalie Drewitz, though just a freshman,  had another breakthrough performance, demonstrating a skill level that bodes well for the future for the rising star.  Jude Abu-Ghazalah and Ruth DeLoye were side-by-side at the finish after Ruth made up 11 places over the last 4 minutes of the race. Isabelle Graham was next followed by Gracie Guzzetta to finish the scoring with 241 points. Seventh place Redondo Union High finished with 207, Santiago High - and Big 8 League foe - won the title with 49 points.

Emely Ruiz and Jordyn Ramirez were the 6th and 7th runners for King.

“It was a Cinderella story for the girls team this year,” said King coach Mario Machuca. “I’m really proud of every single one of them for the hard work they put in and for buying into the program.”

The meteoric rise the girls made in 54 weeks is the stuff of legends and in time, will soften the disappointment from missing State.

For the boys, well, it is on to the State meet and will make the Thanksgiving trip to Fresno on Friday.  There they’ll look for a top 10 finish in all of California, a result that will require, well, a heavy dose of talent, toughness and tenaciousness.

And once again, luck will not be required or available.