Stellar field, big performances highlight CCA Cross Country Invitational
Just another early season high school cross country carnival? Not quite. Saturday’s Canyon Crest Academy Fleet Feet Invitational actually felt like a bit of a coming out party for the fifth-year event and maybe, to a lesser extent, the CCA program.
The 65 teams and 1,778 runners participating were both record highs for the occasion and for the first time, 11th-year Canyon Crest Head Coach Andy Corman was able to lure a pair a premier outside teams into the field. Ironically, the atypically drizzly, overcast conditions Saturday delivered perfect cross country weather and combined with the relatively flat, time-friendly course resulted in exceptional top- end competition.
Corman’s youthful enthusiasm belies the fact that he’s been head coach at CCA for over a decade and is now at least approaching “veteran” status. From meager beginnings, his Ravens have won three CIF team championships, bagged the CIF State girls’ crown behind individual champion Carlie Dorostokar in 2019, sport a 91-runner roster this season and are certainly in the conversation when it turns to the elite teams in the county. That progress helps explain why Corman’s post-race comments were heavily focused on the big picture.
“My biggest highlight at CCA has simply been growing the team and this is part of that,” said Corman. “I would like this to be one of the bigger races in San Diego, one that can continually get teams from outside the area that want to compete.
“I like the early season placement because our course can provide a great reward, time-wise, for kids that have worked hard over the summer while at the same time maybe light the fire under some kids who didn’t do as much—either way, it can be a great motivator.”
This year’s edition sported entries from the states of Washington and Arizona, but the biggest of the non-San Diego schools were clearly CIF Southern Section powers San Clemente and (Manhattan Beach) Mira Costa. They put on a dominant display in the boys three-mile invitational division, both landing five runners in the top 20 en route to a 1-2 finish.
Led by senior Brett Ephraim’s first place individual finish in 14:34.50, San Clemente took the top spot in the 23-team contest with 36 points, 10 up on Mira Costa with locals Canyon Crest (102), Cathedral Catholic (150) and La Costa Canyon (188) rounding out the top five.
It was a stark contrast to 2022 where the CCA boys claimed a one-point victory in a race that saw the top four teams, all from North County, finish within eight points. But Corman was not buying into any “be careful what you wish for thinking” when discussing the outcome and the newcomers’ impact.
“The fact that we can get Southern Section schools in here, that’s awesome,” declared Corman. “I think it just helps to validate what we’re doing.
“It will attract other kids who have great times and will help bring the performances of our own kids to a higher level.”
Among the homegrown competitors in the race, Santa Fe Christian junior Evan Smith was fourth in 14:49.20 and CCA’s own Jacob Pippel, who placed fourth a year ago, garnered seventh with a personal best of 14:53.80 on the course while corroborating his coaches’ theory on the effects of facing tough adversaries.
“I trained really hard for three or four months and to come in here and run 12 seconds faster over the course and a four second p.r. for the distance was satisfying,” said the 6-foot-1 senior. “There was so much great talent here, including two of the top 25 teams in the nation.
“Having competition like that, having a big front pack I could get on the back of and stick with, trusting that I could stay with them—that carries you along.”
The out-of-towners both finished top five in the girls’ team chase but the bigger stories were a scintillating front end duel between La Jolla sophomore Chiara Dailey and La Costa Canyon senior Gioana Lopizzo, and Cathedral Catholic repeating as team titlist.
Dailey, the defending meet champion and Lopizzo, the reigning CIF track & field winner at 3,200m, quickly dispatched the rest of the field, going stride-for-stride for the first two and a half miles. Dailey pulled away decisively in the final half mile, hitting the wire in a stunning 15:54.20, a new course standard and 1:13 better than her winning time in ’22. Lopizzo also bettered the existing mark, clocking 16:06.30.
Somewhat lost in the jaw-dropping performance by the top two was a very strong third place finish by Cathedral Catholic sophomore Lindsay Zimmer. Sidelined by health issues as a freshman, Zimmer made her first prep cross country splash with a 17:16.90 performance that spearheaded a Dons’ squad that was missing steady senior Alexandria Pena (fifth at this race last fall). Cathedral senior Scarlett Martin chipped in with a sixth place (17:33.80) finish.
“Lindsay’s always had talent and ran a really smart race today,” said Cathedral Head Coach Dan Geiger. “Those top two are in a class by themselves and there was a lot of shrapnel behind them. She didn’t get caught up in that, ran her race and steadily moved up in the second half of the race.”
The Dons registered 65 points to clear runner-up Poway by 24. San Clemente was third, followed by Rancho Bernardo, Mira Costa, La Jolla, La Costa Canyon and Canyon Crest.
“With Alexandria out, two freshman girls, Kristine Bickler and Andrea Radilla saved us today, rounding out our top five,” added Geiger. “We kind of handily beat a good field which is pretty encouraging.”
Speaking specifically about his own team, Corman was pleased with what he saw. “We have a lot of seniors, a lot of experience on both teams and today we saw some key individual races that played out exactly as we were hoping,” said Corman. “Jacob went well under 15 minutes, Kai (Bolaris) broke 16 for the first time and on the girls’ side Katja (Dunayevich) had a great performance, just over 17:40, and we were solid up-and-down both lineups.
“This was a nice little dress rehearsal for the Mt. Carmel and Woodbridge Invitationals in two weeks and the CIF Championships later in the season.”
But the weekend’s biggest winner was the sport and the event—and others are starting to take notice. “It sure seems like this meet is picking up steam,” said Geiger afterwards. “You had two of the top teams in California, a flat, fast race, a good timing system—the word’s going to start getting out.”
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