On Friday the cross country team competed in its 1st meet of the season, the Wolfpack Invitational at West Hills high school. This is a grade-level meet with shorter distances since it’s early in the season, and for these reasons it’s a great season-opener. The girls and freshmen boys covered 1.5 miles over mostly flat, dusty trails, while the rest of the boys tackled 2.1 miles. LJCDS is one of the few small schools that competes at this meet, and the fields can get pretty big (over 100 racers), though they were smaller than previous years. The heat always poses a challenge for many runners at this meet and today was no different with temps in the low 90s for the first few races.
The freshmen girls, Sarah Lindlan and Aubree Potter, were the first to race, and unfortunately they had less-than-ideal conditions for their cross country racing introduction. We left school a little later than intended and therefore hit nasty traffic on the way to Santee. Instead of a course tour and a good warm-up, the girls had just enough time to hop off the bus, put on their chips and bibs, and rush to the starting line. No matter, they did just fine. Sarah finished in 11:50 and 30th place, while Aubree crossed the line in 12:25 and 45th.
The freshmen boys were also a little short on time as they affixed chips and bibs and quickly warmed up, but they too responded with solid racing. Dylan Zou-Schupp finished 31st in 9:35, the first time we’ve had a freshman boy under 10:00 in many years. John Guckian also posted an impressive time of 10:05 for 48th place. Erik Yang, racing after only a week of training, finished in 11:59.
Vivian Li, another newcomer to cross country and our lone sophomore girl, was next to race. Vivian was steady and deliberate in her race and finished in 12:41 and 50th place.
At nine runners, the sophomore boys were our largest group, in the biggest race of the day (110 racers) and they showed how much improvement there is to be made between 9th and 10th grade. Paul Criado was our top finisher in 12:20 and 28th, and he had Jake Needle right on his heels in 12:21 and 29th. Eisa Al Mazrouei was close behind in 12:25 and 31st. At the starting line Eisa said “I’m gonna surprise you today, coach.” And that’s exactly what he did with this result. Alex Price also turned in a surprisingly good race, finishing in 13:08 and 51st. Aidan Ideker finished with the same time, but was a half-step behind in 52nd. David Thorpe was next to finish, in 13:34 and 63rd, with new LJCDS student Ricardo Cervera not far behind in 13:44 and 66th. Connor Pelayo, another new LJCDS sophomore, finished in 14:19 and 79th, while Jacob Walter rounded out the boys’ efforts with his 14:38 finish, good for 82nd. Last year over the shorter distance the boys’ per-mile paces ranged from 6:43 to 7:46. This year, all the boys averaged under 7:00 per mile and the first three were under 6:00.
The junior girls were next, and this year’s group of four is equal to the entire team size last year. The nerves were a little more obvious as the girls waited for their race to start. Jaden McDaniel, returning to Country Day after a couple years in Belgium, and Alexcia Doak, switching over to cross country at the end of the summer, had never competed in a cross country race. Jaden’s track background was evident, however, as she finished in 10:38 and 17th place, earning a medal. For Alexcia the goal was to keep pushing and to finish, and that’s what she did. Jenna Hernandez had a solid race in finishing in 11:31 and 41st, but this fell shy of her high standards. Grace Karmazin-Schneider saw just how much her summer training and track season will impact her cross country season, improving by over 90 seconds from last year in finishing in 10:55 and 26th.
The group of junior boys is led by Tian Zhou, who was raring to go after a strong summer of training. He turned in our fastest race of the day and surprised even himself with his 11:07 finish for 13th place. Tian basically ran faster over 2 miles on this hot, dusty, rolling course than he did last spring on the track. Daven Gujral was our next finisher in 12:47 and 55th. This was an improvement of almost a minute from last year’s time. Andrew Kuhn’s improvement was over 70 seconds; his 13:27 was good for 73rd. RJ Parry is another for whom this was the first cross country race. Even if you’ve been training well, as RJ has, it can be tricky to figure out how to pace yourself during a race. RJ will surely go faster as he learns this, but his time of 13:45 was a solid first effort.
With Dante Carnecchia injured, senior Ilaria Comfort was our last racer of the day. Ilaria ran a smart race and steadily moved up, ultimately finishing 9th (LJCD’s highest finish) with a time of 10:26, which nearly matched last year’s time.
The first meet confirmed what we already knew – that we are collectively faster than last year, and significantly. It’s exciting to have a much larger team and a group that will push each other to be even more competitive. Our next meet is on Saturday: the Bronco Invitational at Kit Carson Park.