Cathedral Catholic girls go back-to-back in section cross country; Don boys second

The Cathedral Catholic girls repeated as CIF D-III champions.
The Cathedral Catholic girls repeated as CIF D-III champions.
(Ken Grosse)

With a total of nine section titles and 12 runner-up finishes in 12 years under Head Coach Dan Geiger entering Saturday’s 2021 CIF Division III Cross Country Championship, the Cathedral Catholic cross country program is already established as one of, if not the most, consistent in San Diego. When Saturday’s festivities at Balboa Park’s Morley Field were concluded, the Dons had burnished that legacy, winning a second straight girls’ banner and grabbing runner-up honors on the boys side, meaning both teams earned berths in the November 27 CIF State Meet at Fresno.

After breaking a five-year stretch of second place finishes at this meet with a CIF crown in 2019 (there was no CIF Championship in last year’s pandemic-shortened season), the Don boys stepped to the line Saturday looking for a repeat but got edged out by first time winner Hilltop (95-110), tying with El Capitan in the silver medal slot.

Cathedral placed three seniors in its top four, paced by Blake Levy who secured fourth place, covering the 2.96 mile layout in 15:41.4. That left him 26 seconds behind LCC junior Jacob Niednagel, the individual medalist, who powered past Hilltop senior Jimmy Byland in the final 100 yards.

“The boys had hopes for winning it today but Hilltop did a great job and that was the key,” said Geiger. “You have to be ‘on’ on race day.”

Sophomore Alexandria Pena was Cathedral's top finisher.
Sophomore Alexandria Pena was Cathedral’s top finisher.
(Ken Grosse)

An hour later, the Cathedral girls put on a tour de force, placing seven runners in the top 13, but still were barely able to hold off second place La Costa Canyon (32-44), which landed six in the top 20 itself.

“Collectively, this is the best girls team we’ve ever had,” said Geiger. “Comparing times, the stats say they’re the best, but LCC has always been one of our biggest rivals and we knew they would give us a good run.

“I felt confident that if we could do what we’re capable of, it would be difficult for someone to run with us.”

A pair of sophomores, Alexandria Pena (18:25.3) and Scarlett Martin (18:38.0) ran third and fourth respectively to spearhead the Dons. From No. 1 to 7, they were a mere 45 seconds apart. The other three scorers were junior Keira Rall (6th), Chiara Bonomi (9th) and Sophia Kisir (10th). Point Loma’s Sophie Compton was the D-III champ, clocking 17:58.09, followed by LCC senior Kyra Compton.

Cathedral’s senior captain Lexi Arambulo talked about what it was like being the favorite, how her team approached CIF and simply having the opportunity. “Definitely, there’s a little pressure in a race like this where everybody expects you to win,” smiled Arambulo, who finished 13th, “but we always just concentrate on having fun, trying our best and just going for it.

“Honestly, this has been a great experience for our team. We’ve grown so much closer and stronger throughout this season. I feel like this win is very well deserved but with all that’s happened in the last year or more, we’re all so happy to be here..”

When asked about the secret to this team’s phenomenal long term success, Geiger emphasized teamwork and echoed his captain about savoring the moment.

“We call the basic concept that I think makes this team successful ‘synergy,’ ” said Geiger. “All of our girls have a similar race pace, they train together and they push each other.

“Our gaps are always about 30 seconds between one and five. That’s obviously great in a race situation but I think it pays off even more in training because they’re always right there with each other and pushing each other through every session.

“I think this fall was rewarding for everybody, not just our team. Coming off a pandemic year with the limited training and the lack of a season, to come together and have a season like this is very gratifying.”

Later in the day, the Torrey Pines girls rolled to the title in Division I, outpointing Del Norte (54-75) with

Canyon Crest (115) claiming fourth. In the boys’ division it was Otay Ranch (58) at the top with Torrey Pines No. 2 (86) and Canyon Crest seventh (178).

Sophomore Scarlett Taylor (17:35.2) and senior Annika Salz (17:40.6) picked up third and fourth place honors for the Falcons while junior Emma George was eighth. Coach Gerard Reske’s outfit will also be traveling to the CIF State Meet. Junior Ryan Thomas was first across the line for Torrey in the boys’ competition, earning seventh place with a time of 15:50.6.