Does SCV Cross Country have WHAT IT TAKES for a state Title?
November, 2012 - Issue #97
In the last decade, no high school sport in the Santa Clarita Valley has been more successful than cross country. It's been a valley-wide show of success, but no two teams have been the flag bearers of that success more than Saugus High girls cross country and Golden Valley High boys cross country.

Saugus has won an unprecedented six-straight CIF state championships, while Golden Valley won the school's first-ever state championship of any kind in 2011 after years of increasingly-better finishes.

But 2012 is the transition year in this decade-long dominance of cross country as a sport.

Saugus graduated a slew of top runners, as did Golden Valley. And coaching changes have made for new challenges for both schools. It begs the question - Do these teams still have what it takes to compete for state titles come November?

"Do I think we're going to challenge for it? Absolutely. I absolutely believe that," said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas, who is regarded as arguably the best coach of any kind in the SCV. "If you would have asked me that in May, I wouldn't have been so sure. But after what we've been able to accomplish this summer ... , I think we're very much in the running for, if not a state championship, definitely a podium spot."

Said Golden Valley first-year head coach Marc Minasian: "When you take a look at the results from the first two meets of the season and see the total team time, that's a competitive number. That tells me we have the fitness to run as fast as we need to run to have success in the postseason."

Golden Valley has had the most changes of possibly any school in the valley. First and foremost, its successful head coaches Chris and Rob Evans, who built the program into the powerhouse it is, resigned after last year's CIF state title. On top of that, the school graduated seniors Kristian Martinez, Juan David Garcia, Carlos Lopez, Aaron Nguyen and Gabe Levy - with Martinez and Garcia moving on to NCAA Division I programs.

That left just two runners who scored on the championship team - Nolan Del Valle and Brendan Tinoco.

Minasian came in with a different style, as well, which emphasizes more intensity and less distance over the course of a week. The former Oak Park High of Ventura County head coach said most of his athletes bought in, but he acknowledged the challenge it presented them.

"One of the first things I talked about in my interview was that my coaching philosophy is a little different," Minasian said. "We've got ... athletes who are accustomed to [the ways of the past], and they see a tremendous amount of success in the Saugus way and in the previous years' Golden Valley [methods], and they have someone coming in and doing something different. It's hard to adjust."

Nonetheless, he said his team showed promise early and junior Arnold Bautista has stepped forward to give the Grizzlies a powerful number-three runner with some depth behind them.
Saugus' changes also included coaching and the loss of talent. In the summer, Paragas' wife gave birth to twins, so he said he has put in 75 percent the amount of time into practices.

Senior co-captains Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui graduated, along with Jordan McCall.

That leaves seniors Katie Huntington and Heidi Hoslet to step into the roles of Frankian, who was another in a long line of Centurion star runners, and Jauregui. And Saugus showed depth early on with Samantha Ortega, Abigail Frankian, Olivia Altieri, Darby LaPlant, Nina Sassano and Alex Hill all finishing in the top 15 of the first Foothill League meet.

So in a year of transition, these schools feel they are still state title contenders. There's a lot of motivation to keep the run going.

"Last year was probably the greatest challenge because the tough competition we were facing, but also because we graduated [superstars] Kailyn Mahoney and [Stephanie] Bulder and really talented athletes. We had, I think, five NCAA Division I athletes on that team. It was going to be difficult," Paragas said. "Somehow, some way we were able to pull it out. Because of that, it gave us the feeling that, 'You know what? We could do it with just about anybody.' This group of girls know they are just as good as them. If they got it done, we can get it done, too."

Said Minasian: "We have a tremendous amount of motivation because people think it was just an odd occurrence last year, so the guys are very focused and fired up. We're hungry."
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