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Santa Clarita's Sports Dynasty
December, 2011 - Issue #86
Cross country just might be the sport that defines this community. We're witnessing a dynasty at Saugus High School, as its girls team has won five straight CIF state titles. We're watching the success of a burgeoning cross country program at Golden Valley High and the impressive performances at the local college level, particularly The Master's College. We have reached the golden age of running in the Santa Clarita Valley.

First, Saugus. The girls program has produced superstars year in and year out - from Shannon Murakami to Katie Dunn and Kaylin Mahoney to Stephanie Bulder and its current star Karis Frankian. They are the true definition of a team - receiving contributions from every member.

"We have reached the GOLDEN AGE of
running
in the Santa Clarita Valley."

A lot of people credit head coach Rene Paragas for keeping the program strong. "I don't think we do anything extraordinary," Paragas says of his training methods. "People would say what's extraordinary is we [train] year around. We have kids and parents who are willing to modify vacations to train. It's the iron will - to be as consistent as we can."

Over at Golden Valley, a big piece of their success, as the boys team finished 11th in the state in 2008, third in 2009 and seventh in 2010, has been commitment. The kids are out running at dusk and at dawn. Golden Valley co-head coach Rob Evans says his top five boys runners this season didn't even run as freshmen, including their top athlete Kristian Martinez, who was a soccer player.

Evans and his co-head coach, brother Chris, recruited athletes on campus to join. The salesmen sold the program, got the kids to commit to joining it, then the kids committed to becoming great. "I think it's finding the right mix of kids who are talented and kids who will work hard," Rob says.

The recipe for success for these programs doesn't just come from Paragas' and the Evans brothers' commitments to their own programs. It comes from influences, history and competition.

Paragas cites former Hart High cross country head coach Gene Blankenship as the man who brought the sport to a new level. Blankenship guided Hart's boys to three state championships - 1990, 1991 and 1992 - and a national championship in 1991. Canyon head coach Dave Delong then took Canyon (its girls in 1995 and boys in 2001) to the state's pinnacle. But going farther back, the first major team championship ever won in the SCV was by Saugus girls in 1978 when they won a CIF division title.

As far as competition, the valley has grown so ultra-competitive in the sport that Paragas says he has scheduled less invitationals (where his team can run against a wider region of teams) because there is so much competition in the Foothill League.

These kids graduate and some want to keep their careers going. Some have chosen to run for The Master's College and College of the Canyons, and each school has benefited not only from the local high schools becoming feeder schools, but from the valley's reputation.

Lindie Kane, who is COC's 16th-season head cross county coach, says her program has experienced its greatest success over the last three to five years.

She acknowledges that the high schools have helped build this valley's reputation, but she says, "It starts in the youth programs. Look at [youth organizations] Warriors and Storm. Kids in the junior highs have a big cross country meet. There are more numbers - we have had so much growth out here."

In 2007 and 2010, COC's men and women have qualified to run in the state championship. For the last six years, TMC's men have reached the NAIA National Meet and the women's program has new reached heights. In 2010, runner Jeff Jackson won the NAIA National Championship in the marathon.

This has all been under the coaching of Zach and Amie Schroeder. And the success is just beginning, Zach says. "I believe the best days for our men's and women's running programs are ahead," he says. "We have a very young program that is still very much developing and we are just now starting to get recognition. I believe the athletes that are part of this team, and those soon to be, will be the building blocks of truly great running in the SCV."

Truly great running in the SCV has already been accomplished at other schools. But as a whole, we've never seen the sort of success at the high school and college levels that we've seen this year. A running community? No - a championship running community.
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