On Friday the cross country teams travelled to Walnut, CA for the Mt. SAC Invitational, billed as the world’s largest cross country meet. Though the fields are smaller due to ongoing construction on their new track and stadium, it’s still easy to see how big this meet is when you get to the sea of canopies in the team set-up area. The S-A in SAC does not stand for Santa Ana, but it should since the hot, dry, breezy conditions always seem to impact this meet. True to form, temps were in the 90’s and clouds of dust lingered over the course. Still, this meet is a rite of passage for southern California runners and it’s always a fun day despite the challenges. Years later the runners will tell stories of the Airstrip, the Valley Loop, the Crossover, and hills named Switchbacks, Poopout, and Reservoir.
But to better understand our day at Mt. SAC, we have to backtrack to our two previous meets: the Mt. Carmel Invitational and Coastal League Cluster #1. Mt. Carmel, a grade-level race, took place the Saturday before experiential education week (September 21st) and due to injuries and other circumstances 10 of our 28 were not able to race. Still, several of those who did race turned in solid performances. Senior Ilaria Comfort (18:18, 24th) and junior Grace Karmazin-Schneider (19:42, 41st) earned medals and set personal course records. Also improving over last year and establishing personal records were Daven Gujral, Walter Chen, Paul Criado, Aidan Ideker, David Thorpe, Eisa al-Mazrouei, and Jacob Walter. It was the first time racing at Morley Field for Vivian Li, Aubree Potter, John Guckian, Erik Yang, Ricardo Cervera, Spencer Heaton, and RJ Parry, and most fared well. For Vivian and Aubree this was the best race of the season so far. Unfortunately this meet was overshadowed by a medical emergency that befell junior Tian Zhao. He pushed himself hard during the race, which is the way he runs, and ended up with heat stroke. By the last quarter mile (maybe more) he was running on will power and was weaving across the course. He lost his balance and fell with maybe 50 yards to go. He got to his knees and tried to crawl but then went down again. Tian’s mom and I were both right next to him, and at this point mom reached out to help her son. Such contact, no matter how well-intended, means the runner is disqualified. At this point, Tian was clearly in distress and not going to finish the race; his time and place were no longer important, though of course for Tian they were and he was very upset later that he didn’t finish. Medical personnel were there within seconds and they did a wonderful job tending to Tian. In short order they took him to the medical tent and had him in a pool of cold water to bring down his temperature, which was 106. Tian eventually went to the hospital, where his temperature was further reduced and he was given fluids. He felt fine within a couple of hours, but it would take another 2.5 weeks for his blood tests to return normal results, giving him the green light to resume training.
The 1st Coastal League cluster meet was on October 17th. Also known as our Pink Meet, several runners, coaches, and parents from the 7 teams in the league donned pink attire in support of breast cancer awareness. Great to see so much pink in the UCSD eucalyptus grove. Tian was still not ready to race but several other Torreys were. Ilaria finished 9th in a time of 21:24, her best on the home course. Juniors Jaden McDaniel and Jenna Hernandez both battled through injuries to finish with times of 22:15 and 23:03. Grace’s time of 22:44 (25th) was an improvement of over 2 minutes from 2018. Freshman Sarah Lindlan crossed the line in 24:53 and 41st as our 5th scorer, while Aubree and Vivian finished in 26:37 and 26:57. The girls finished 5th of 6 scoring teams with 114 points. In the boys JV race, Dylan Zou-Schupp showed that he is getting into racing form with his time of 20:55 and 19th place finish. David was our 2nd finished in 21:06. Walter showed that he is also past his early season injuries and settling into racing form with his time of 22:21 (32nd). Ricardo started well but then suffered from cramps and sore shins; he finished 34th in 22:36. Erik Yang turned in a solid performance with his 23:15 finish. Jacob Walter was close behind in 23:23, and Spencer Heaton wasn’t far behind him in 23:30. The varsity boys, minus Tian, finished 6th of the 6 scoring teams. It’s worth noting, however, than in our league we have two of the best teams in the entire state: Francis Parker and Santa Fe Christian. This was a very fast race. Paul was our top finisher in 18:55 (an improvement of :23) and 29th. Daven was close behind in 18:59 (31st), and Jake was on his heels in 19:00 (32nd), showing an improvement of over a minute. John turned in a good performance his 1st time on the course, finishing in 20:02 (36th). Aidan improved by :34 to finish in 20:26 (40th) and complete our scoring. RJ was close behind as he finished his 1st race on the course in 20:32. Andrew, nursing sore shins, closed out the Torrey effort with a 21:08 finish.
As we made our way north to Mt. SAC we were again far from full strength, with several runners not racing due to injury and others in Panama for the MUN conference. But we also would have a few racing for the first time in many weeks. The Mt. SAC races are a combination of team races (varsity and JV) and grade level races (9th and 10th). Due to the construction, the team set-up area is a healthy walk from the starting corral, which is itself a few hundred meters from the actual starting line. One of the challenges for the runners is being where they need to be at the right time, and then handling the delay before actually starting their race. This is something the Torrey runners handled perfectly. The first group to race was the freshmen boys, Dylan and Erik. Dylan paced his race very well and though he looked gassed coming down Reservoir, he ended up finishing 17th in 20:27, which would be our 3rd fastest time of the day. Erik finished in 24:57 after a good start followed by some struggles on the hills. The JV boys (today: Walter, Andrew, and Dante) were the next to race. This was Dante’s first race of the season, and he was our only athlete who had experience at Mt. SAC. Despite chronic shin splints, he had this one penciled in as one that he had to race. Dante started fairly well on the flat 1st mile that circles the Valley Loop twice, but then his lack of running fitness caught up with him on the hills. He gamely kept running and even encouraged competitors to keep going on the hills, and finished in 26:13. Andrew has also been nursing shin pain recently, but was excited for a good race. He too started well, covering the 1st mile in 6:30, but was also challenged by the hills. Andrew finished in 22:01 (63rd). Walter’s season began with a bout of shin splints, but he was able to successfully work through it. In finishing in 22:16 he completed his best race of the season in terms of overall pace. Our 3rd group of boys to race was the sophomores: Sam, David, Jacob, Connor, and Spencer. For Sam and Connor, sufferers of shin splints and foot injuries, this was only the 2nd meet of the season. Not surprisingly a lack of fitness kept them from racing as well as they would have liked, and both went out a little too hard in the 1st mile before fading on the hills. Still, it was great to have them racing and figuring things out. Sam finished in 22:36 (30th) while Connor crossed the line in 25:42 (60th). David struggled a bit on the course and finished in 22:53 (34th), while Jacob turned in one of his better performances of the season with his 23:15 (37th) finish.
Race organizers have a “safety gate” procedure in place especially when conditions are hot. If runners don’t reach the 1.5 mile mark by a certain time, they are forced to stop, drink water, and head back to the team area. This happened to Spencer in the sophomore race, and also to Aubree and Vivian in the girls varsity race. All were fine, though disappointed to not finish the race.
Because Aubree and Vivian did not finish, the girls could not score as a team. Grace and Jenna ran together for much of the race, crossing the 1st and 2nd mile points together. Grace had a faster final mile thanks in part to how well she ran the downhill section of Reservoir, and she finished in 24:27 (38th.) Jenna, still nursing a sore foot, wasn’t far behind in 24:44 (44th). Sarah, like many before her, had a pretty good 1st mile but had a harder time maintaining her effort once she hit the hills. She finished in 27:03 (77th).
Our final race of the afternoon was the varsity boys. Our principal concern was how Tian would handle his 1strace since Mt. Carmel, but more generally we were anxious to see how the young squad handled the Mt. SAC challenge. Tian came through the 1st mile in a speedy 5:37, with Daven following in 6:00. Aidan, John, and Paul were in a nice pack at 6:21 with Jake right behind in 6:24. RJ was running well at 6:50. Right after the 1st mile marker the Switchbacks begin. After winding their way up, runners get an even longer, more gradual descent as they return to the Crossover and face Poopout, a short, steep hill that is also followed by a longer descent onto mostly flat trail before the final climb of Reservoir. Tian passed several runners on the 1st hill and was still moving up as he tackled #2. He was clearly working hard but seemed to be in control. The rest of the squad kept their positions for the most part, and though they struggled a bit on the 2nd mile, they were able to pick things up in the 3rd mile as they descended Reservoir and headed for the finish on the Airstrip. Tian ended up in 9th with his 17:46 finish, earning a medal, and he was just fine physically. This was a terrific rebound race for him, and we were so relieved. Daven was our next finisher in a solid 19:17 (34th). Paul was next in 20:27 (50th), followed by John (20:47, 58th), Jake (20:56, 63rd), and Aidan (21:04, 64th) who kept close for much of the race and only separated on the final hill. RJ closed out the day’s racing with his 21:43 (75th) finish. As a team the boys finished 9th of 13 with 184 points.
In typical Country Day fashion, several runners zipped (sort of) back to school in order to perform with the marching band at halftime of the Homecoming game. And while we missed the pep rally and the Hall of Fame induction of former Torrey XC great Rashawn Allen, we did get to see him introduced at halftime.
Next week the Torreys have their 2nd and final Coastal League cluster meet, at Mission Bay. Then it’s time for the championship races of November. Thanks for reading this long recap.