The pursuit of a 10th state championship didn't produce the perfect ending for the Saugus High girls cross country team, but the Centurions didn't conclude their season without setting another California high school record.
Saugus was attempting to tie San Francisco University with its 10th state title, the most by any California cross country team, male or female, but came up short against first-time champion Claremont by a 104-147 margin in the Division 2 final November 26 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
"We've always looked up to Saugus," Claremont sophomore Sydney Hwang said. "We have such great respect for them because their running program is amazing."
Even in enduring a runner-up team finish for only the second time in program history, the Centurions still established a new standard of consistency at the state championship meet.
Saugus set the state record for most consecutive podium finishes - recognition given to the top three teams in each gender in all five divisions - with its 11th straight appearance, breaking a tie with the boys teams from Nordhoff (1991-2000) and Flintridge Prep (1997-2006).
"The only meet that matters is the state championship," Saugus coach Rene Paragas said. "Considering all the obstacles we've had to overcome this year, I couldn't be more proud of them."
University holds the girls record for the most overall podium finishes with 14 - including nine in a row from 1995-2003 - and Flintridge Prep's boys added to their state record with a 16th podium finish after placing second in the Division 5 final this year.
Saugus already established a state record with seven consecutive state championships from 2006-12, before finishing second in 2013 behind Simi Valley by a 97-102 margin. That season ironically produced the Centurions' lone Division 2 boys cross country state championship with a 110-139 victory over Westlake, before Saugus added a fifth all-time podium finish by placing third in the 2014 state final.
The Centurions rebounded to win the past two Division 2 girls titles to put themselves in position to challenge University's record for the first time this season.
Only 12 athletic programs in the entire state have won at least nine state championships, including the University girls in addition to the boys cross country teams from Jesuit and McFarland, but none of them have done it in as short a span as Saugus.
"They were our motivation all year long. We know how talented they are and we have so much respect for them," Claremont senior Annie Boos said. "But them being right there just kept pushing us because we knew they could beat us if we didn't have our best race, since they've done it so many times in the past."
Saugus almost didn't have the opportunity to race at the state meet for the 12th straight season, needing to survive a sixth-runner tiebreaker against Channel Islands after finishing in a seventh-place tie at the Southern Section Division 2 final November 19 in Riverside.
"We were at a pretty big low," Saugus junior Mackenna Park said. "But we worked our butts off and we had it in us and we came back and we got it."
Just like in 2013, when Saugus placed sixth at the Southern Section Division 2 final, the Centurions rebounded a week later to keep their streak of state podium finishes alive.
"We made it more about the team than individuals. Even if you fall, you still have to get up and keep going for your team," Saugus junior Abigail Davis said. "I'm just so proud of these ladies and we really worked hard, so it's great to still be up on the podium."
Even with West Ranch enjoying its best result in program history by placing third in the Division 2 boys final, the Saugus girls still have one more podium finish at the state cross country meet than all the rest of the Foothill League schools combined.
"Without these ladies, I don't think I'd be doing this at all," said Saugus senior Kaylee Thompson, who joined junior teammate Mariah Castillo in earning all-state honors as they finished fifth and eighth overall.
"I'm just glad we came back strong. I think the best part is we just worked hard because we wanted it so bad."
With only Thompson graduating among the seven Centurions who competed at the state championship meet, Saugus will have a strong opportunity to chase not only University's record, but add to its own impressive legacy again next year.
"We know that we're tough enough to finish the race and to come back," Saugus junior Amelia Delgado said. "This is such a mental sport and it's really important to go out there thinking, 'Why not us?' and 'Why can't we do it?'"