Above: Arcadia’s Ammar Moussa, right, led the heavy favorite Apaches at Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division I finals.
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
WALNUT – There was no reason for the Arcadia High School boys cross country team to be nervous.
But the Apaches were. They went into Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1 race at Mt. San Antonio College undefeated and a heavy favorite to win their first CIF-SS title. Top runner Ammar Moussa was undefeated and the reigning division and state champion.
“I was a little nervous because there is so much on the line,” he said. “I’m a senior and this is the best team we’ve ever had.”
There was no reason for Moussa or the Apaches to worry. Moussa had the day’s fastest time, 15:15, on Mt. SAC’s rain course, one second faster than King’s Wesley Lane, who was second in his race.
Arcadia coach Jim O’Brien said a little nervousness was expected.
“There was normal nervousness and anticipation,” he said. “We’ve run enough big races, we knew what was expected. But nothing is definite.”
The Apaches placed five runners in the top 20 and took their first CIF-SS title with 43 points.
“We let our legs do the talking,” Moussa said. “We were really motivated. We tried to send a statement out there. We wanted to prove that we are the best team in the Southern Section.”
South Pasadena’s Sam Pons took his second consecutive Division 3 title in 15:50, the day’s ninth-fastest time.
“I felt the pace was unusually slow and there was a big line of people and I didn’t want them to hang on for long, so halfway from the turnaround point I started to make some distance on them,” Pons said. “I think there will be a little more pressure at state.”
Arcadia’s Catrina McAlister finished second in her Division 1 race and Bosco Tech and Flintridge Sacred Heart each finished on the podium.
Six teams and five individuals from the West San Gabriel Valley qualified for the state meet in Fresno.
Saturday’s meet was run on Mt. SAC’s rain course for the first time since 1995. Athletes ran a two-loop circuit and finished on the stadium track.
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“It was tough, really tough,” Moussa said. “Physically I felt shot going through two miles. But either way we were here for CIF finals, not Mt. SAC. I kind of wanted to go after the (hill course) record.”
Arcadia’s Gonzalez ran with his teammate for 2 1/2 miles before fading to fourth in 15:32.Teammate Allen Leung fell early in the race and was running last, but got up to finish 17th in 16:01. Eric Garibay was 11th in 15:53 and Ryan Vargas 15th in 15:57.
“It was a long time coming,” O’Brien said of the title. “I think they ran as great as I expected, especially the curveball they were given with the rain and the course. They didn’t flinch, they didn’t blink.”
Arcadia’s McAlister finished second, but the Apaches girls missed advancing to state by 10 points in Division 1. They finished eighth.
McAlister ran an 18:12, the fifth-fastest time of the meet. Simi Valley freshman Sarah Baxter won in the day’s fastest time, 17:40.
McAlister took a wrong turn and was passed by Centennial’s Adriana Olivas. But the senior came on strong in the final 100 meters to pass Olivas again. Olivas finished in 18:13.
“I was like, `Oh, it’s over.’ Then I said, `Wait, heck no,’ ” McAlister said. “There was no point going after (Baxter). There was no point pushing it this week. I can go after it next week.”
McAlister wasn’t the only athlete to turn the wrong way. La Salle’s Daniel De La Torre, in the lead in Division 4, also took a wrong turn and finished sixth in 16:37.
“It was horrible,” he said. “It was stupid on my part. I could have won the whole darn race.”
Bosco Tech missed winning a Division 4 title by nine points and lost to Harvard-Westlake. The Tigers were third last year.
“It was a big improvement from the kids,” coach Sal Lopez said. “They were disappointed not to take first, but the rain threw them off.”
Maranatha’s Kyle Bueckert was eighth in 16:33 and also advanced.
Bosco Tech junior J.J. Dominguez was 14th in 16:58 with Jimmy Granados 17th in 17:06 and Paco Rodriguez 21st in 17:10.
Maranatha finished 11th. San Marino’s Michael Gimbel was 28th in 17:19 and the Titans placed 14th as a team.
The big surprises were Sacred Heart and the Flintridge Prep girls. The Tologs finished third in Division 4 and the Rebels were sixth to advance to state.
“After the first mile, I thought we were done,” Sacred Heart coach Kirk Nishiyama said. “We really made it up in that last mile. I’m really proud of the girls. We were just looking at seventh.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart beat El Segundo by one point. Mayfield took the seventh and final qualifying spot with Maranatha just missing, 15 points behind the Cubs.
Maranatha’s Grace Tungate was 14th in 19:49, just edging Sacred Heart’s Paulina Antaplyan’s 19:51. Mayfield sophomore Karina Alvarez finished 26th in 20:13. Harvard-Westlake’s Cami Chapus won in 18:41.
The Flintridge Prep girls, with two sophomores, four freshmen and a junior, took the sixth and final qualifying spot in Division 5.
Pasadena Poly finished 10th. Poly freshman Evan Gancedo finished 13th in 20:24, but missed advancing to state because she was the sixth individual qualifier and only five advanced. Prep sophomore Kaithlyn Kelleher was 18th in 21:02 and freshman teammate Sarah Yoho was 19th in 21:03.
“The last two weeks, they’ve changed,” Flintridge Prep coach Mike Roffina said. “They are incredibly focused and serious.”
Poly sophomore Michael Caughron finished fifth in Division 5 in 16:52 and earned an individual berth in state.
The Flintridge Prep boys, led by Jason Bunn, finished third in Division 5. Senior Bunn was 12th in 17:02. Poly finished eighth and missed qualifying for state by 16 points.