By Liam Miller
Led by head coach Lalo Diaz, the varsity cross-country team finished in first place at the Great Cow Run on Saturday, Sept. 2. The Cubs, ranked 25th nationally, according to the most recent MileSplit rankings, and second in Division II, according to the most recent CIF division rankings, ran against 35 teams, including three of the top five CIF Division I teams. The Cubs won with 73 points and two of the top 10 finishers.
With an average individual time of 15:05.4 for the top five runners, the Cubs flew through the Cerritos Regional Park course in a cumulative time of 75:27, setting a new team time course record. The previous record was 75:35 set by Saugus two years ago.
Loyola’s front runner, senior Charlie Sherman, who recently committed to run at the University of California, Berkeley, finished in third place with a time of 14:41. Also under 15:00 was senior Alejandro Salinas who finished tenth with a time of 14:57.
Junior Brandon Cobian finished 14th with a time of 15:05 and junior Corey Kumamoto crossed the line fourth for Loyola in 15:14. Rounding out the top five scorers was junior Liam Jamieson with a time of 15:25, placing him 28th, and not far from junior David McAndrews who finished 36th overall in 15:32 at the three mile course.
With a strong start to the season, the Cubs are looking to continue their success from last season. After losing three former varsity members Jonathan Piñon ‘16, Preston Ortiz ‘16 and Shane Martin ‘16 to graduation, the Cubs have worked very hard this preseason to compensate for their loss, according to Diaz. Piñon, Ortiz and Martin all plan to run at the University of California, Santa Barbara, later this fall.
After winning the CIF Division II State Title and placing fourth across all divisions last season, expectations for the Cubs are very high this year. The Cubs hope to repeat their success and bring home the program’s seventh state title. However, McAndrews knows that winning back-to-back state championships will not be easy. “With higher standards of success, [the varsity cross-country team]will definitely not fall victim to overconfidence,” said McAndrews.
When asked how this year’s team compares to last year’s, Diaz responded with one word: “depth.” Along with having a front runner, the second through seventh place runners are separated by mere seconds. “We have tremendous depth, up to and including two sophomores and a freshman. It bodes well for the future,” said Diaz.
The freshman who Diaz mentioned is Anthony Stone, who won the freshman race at the Great Cow Run with a time of 15:25. This time would tie him for fifth man on the varsity team. Diaz plans to move him up to the varsity races during more competitive meets later in the season.
Also absent from the varsity race was junior Shane Bissell, who is currently recovering from an ankle injury but is expected to be back to racing with the team within the next week. Bissell is projected to be the second man on the varsity team, making Loyola that much more competitive. Diaz expects to run the first full varsity lineup, with Bissell and Stone included, at the Bell-Jeff Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Much of the team’s success is attributed to a strategy called “packing.” In this race strategy, the team members stay together in packs rather than race far ahead of one another. Since a team’s race score is the sum of the places of the top five finishers of a team, running in packs is much more effective because it naturally creates a smaller gap between the first and fifth man.
On August 27, the second through seventh man finished under four seconds of each other at the annual Blue and White meet at Cerritos Regional Park. “That type of packing is unheard of,” said McAndrews. At the Great Cow Run a week later at the same park, Loyola had one of the smallest gaps between the first to fifth runner with only 44 seconds.
Other teams are undoubtedly working tirelessly to dethrone the reigning state champions. “By having won last year, we have a major target on our backs, and every school in the southern section, every school in the state is gunning for Loyola High School because they know that we are the team to beat,” said Diaz.
One coaching adjustment that Diaz has made to adapt to this situation is stressing patience. “We don’t want [our runners]to peak in October; we know that we have to be ready in November [for the state championship],” Diaz remarked.
The Cubs know that through hard work they will be prepared for any competition this year. “For years, Diaz has assigned us to eleven practices per week leading up to cross-country season,” says McAndrews. “Our schedule is tough and time consuming, but every second counts when we’re making a run for another state title.”
The varsity team will race tomorrow night at the Rosemead Invitational at 9:30 p.m. at Rosemead High School. Then, the Cubs will travel to San Diego next weekend for the Mt. Carmel Invitational.