Panthers don’t get stage fright.
Newbury Park High’s boys’ cross country team, in its fourth visit to the CIF State Cross Country Championships, made history in Fresno. The Black Cat Attack seized its first CIF State Division II title with a team time of 77 minutes, 51 seconds, the second-best collective performance of all time in that division.
“It was really exciting,” said Nico Young, a junior who finished the 5,000-meter course first overall in 14:59. “We did exactly what we wanted.”
Ethan Ronk, a senior, placed 12th in 15:30 while junior Jace Ascbrenner crossed the finish line 15th in 15:35 to help Newbury Park qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 1 in Portland, Ore.
“For me to get that one point for our team and for everybody else to come through after to qualify for the NXN meet, it was amazing,” Young said.
The Panthers will race at 11:35 a.m. on Saturday in Oregon.
“My hopes are that we can podium there as a team and I can get into the top five individually,” said Young, who lives in Camarillo.
Sarah Shulze, an Oak Park senior who also qualified for the national meet, will race at 10:05 a.m. Saturday in Portland.
Shulze, who has now run the Woodward Park course in Fresno seven times, placed second in the Division III state race with a personal best time of 17:34.
“I would have loved to win but (Del Oro freshman Riley Chamberlain) is unbelievable, so I was pretty happy with my runner-up place,” Shulze said.
The Eagle, a Wisconsin commit who represented her school as an individual, said it was different racing without her teammates, but she was glad to have fellow senior Sylvia Cruz-Albrecht cheering from the sidelines.
Cruz-Albrecht, who will run at Harvard next year, even had a pre-race-day gift for Shulze.
“She gave me a handmade drawing the night before the race which had a badger and a hedgehog with a Harvard ‘H’ on it,” Shulze said. “I think that was something that was really nice to get me ready for the race.”
Shulze said she’s looking forward to nationals.
“I really want to go out there and prove, mostly to myself, that I can hang with these really top nationally ranked girls,” she said.
Jill Walker, a Simi Valley sophomore, was the only other individual from Acorn country to compete at state. In her second appearance at state, the Pioneer placed 16th in Division II in 18:15.
Westlake’s girls’ squad, which reached state for the first time since 2005, took ninth in Division II. Rebecca Schultz, a junior, led the way in 18:17, good for 17th place. Ashley Gonzalez, a junior, clocked a 18:44, while freshman Sydney Covington capped an impressive rookie season with a 19:09.
Moorpark’s girls placed ninth in Division III. Senior Nevaeh Walla’s 19:11 led the Musketeers. Fellow senior Kelly Wade crossed the finish line in 19:23. Sophomores Bridget Edwards (20:12) and Jordyn Walla (20:23) remained bunched up with senior Kayla Akina (20:21) throughout the race.
Moorpark was the only school in the area to have both teams qualify for state this year.
Moorpark’s boys finished 12th in Division III. Junior Keith Murray’s fifth-place finish in 15:33 paced the Musketeers. Ethan McGregor, a senior, was the second Musketeer to cross the finish line, placing 76th in 16:45. Liam Pereira, a junior, finished in 16:49, good for 84th overall.
Murray said he started feeling fatigued toward the end of the race, but he managed to finish strong to claim a PR.
“I knew there was probably somebody behind me,” he said. “I don’t really like when people pass me, especially close to the end.”
Murray, who emerged as Moorpark’s top runner during a breakout season, cut nearly a minute off his time at last year’s state meet.
“I’ve had to completely reinvent my entire race strategy,” he said. “This year, I’ve learned to go out stronger and try to stick with everyone near the front.”
He has high hopes for his senior season.
“If we keep working hard, we can definitely make it back to state,” Murray said.
Also in the Division III boys’ race, Agoura placed 10th as a team. Junior Ryan Koepnick (16:21) and senior Bryan Gasser (16:22) crossed the finish line 39th and 40th, respectively. Gasser is the only senior in a Charger lineup that looks poised to contend for a Coastal Canyon League title in 2019.
In Division V, Viewpoint boys placed seventh. Sophomore Miles Clark (16:15) and junior Ronnie Orosky (16:16) placed seventh and ninth, respectively.
Simi Valley placed 13th as a team in Division II, led by senior Joshua Moncada’s 15:54.
Fellow seniors Alejandro Diaz and Matthew Ahn clocked a 16:31 and 17:00, respectively.
Moncada, the younger brother of former Simi Valley distance dynamos Frankie (Class of 2012) and Christian (2016) Moncada, became the first member of his family to race at state.
“It was a dream come true,” Joshua Moncada said. “I’ve always looked up to my brothers as runners. It was an honor and a privilege.”
He said the memories he’s created this fall will last a lifetime.
“I’m never going to forget the nice runs my team had together,” he said. “We’d go on 12-mile runs, and we’d spend the entire run constantly joking with each other. That’s the best feeling of running, running with a group of people that make the time go by so fast.”
Thousand Oaks, led by Michael Mireles’ 10th-place finish in 15:30, took seventh as a team in Division II. Seniors Mitchell Burr, who clocked a 16:00, good for 45th; and Ethan Bersley (16:01, 48th) also earned top-50 finishes.
Lancer head coach Andy Thompson said he was proud of his boys’ squad for reaching the state meet for the first time since 2008.
“In the Southern Section, just getting to state is a huge accomplishment,” he said. “It was just a really fun season with a really, really great group of boys that we’re really going to miss.”
Thompson enjoyed hosting the Lancers at his home for practices during the Thanksgiving break while he and his daughter, Faye, tried to re-create his wife Mckenzie’s famous breakfast casserole.
“We cooked the boys breakfast while they were playing in my backyard with my 2-year-old son,” Thompson said of his boy, Huck. “Times like that I’m never going to forget. That was a lot of fun in the midst of all of that crazy stuff that had gone on in our community.”
After the recent tragedies, the Lancers adopted the “T.O. Strong” motto, pulling together to make a memorable run to Fresno.
“These boys really knew the people were rooting for them,” Thompson said. “Our community was looking for bright spots and they embraced that.
“With all the tragedy that’s gone on, there’s been so many moments I’ve seen this community rally around one another. It makes me really proud to be a coach in this town.”
Take a bow
Local high school athletes represented Acorn country well at the CIF State Cross Country Championships last weekend in Fresno. Here’s a list of how the distance dynamos fared:
Boys’ teams results
• Newbury Park,first in Division II
• Thousand Oaks, seventh in Division II
• Simi Valley, 13th in Division II
• Agoura, 10th in Division III
• Moorpark, 12th in Division III
• Viewpoint, seventh in Division V
Girls’ teams results
• Moorpark, ninth in Division III
• Westlake, ninth in Division II
• Sarah Shulze, Oak Park, senior, 17:34, second in Division III
• Jill Walker, Simi Valley, sophomore, 18:15, 16th in Division II