Sports

Avocado West looking like premier cross country league in section

When attempting to explain the muscle of the Avocado West League when it comes to cross country, perhaps the recent fate of Torrey Pines High School could be used as a good example. The Falcons, perhaps the pre-eminent overall athletic program in the San Diego Section, can and certainly have held their own in the sport over the years. On the boys’ side, Torrey has been a two-time CIF D-I champion and once a runner-up since 2013 while the girls have captured three titles and four seconds since 2011. Coach Kaitlin Hildebrand’s squad was second on the boys’ side and fourth on the girls at the CIF section championship last season—yet those were the same slots the team occupied in the league race—meaning the Avo West is not a spot where teams should be searching for easy rewards.

The competition may get even tighter and tougher this fall as San Marcos and Mission Hills replace San Dieguito Academy and Sage Creek on the grid. Here’s a quick look at each of the six teams that will start the chase for Avocado West honors the second weekend of September.

CCA junior
Canyon Crest junior Carlie Dorostkar Ken Grosse

La Costa Canyon

Head Coach: Bill Vice (22nd yr.)

2017 Avocado West Finish – Girls (1) / Boys (1)

2017 CIF Finish (Division III) – Girls (1) / Boys (1)

Overview – LCC has won the last three boys and girls CIF Division III championships and dominated the Avocado West League to the tune of eight consecutive girls’ and four straight boys’ titles. The Mavericks move back to Division II this year but look more than capable of extending all those streaks.

Lose a runner like McKenna Brown who was second in both the CIF San Diego and State Championships last year? No problem. Seniors Kristin Fahy, the two-time defending section champion, and Jessica Riedman, fourth in the CIF XC final and CIF 800 champion in track & field, are back to give the Mavs a powerful combination at the top of their lineup. Senior Natalie Schroeder and rapidly-developing sophomore Sydney Weaber provide experienced, quality follow-up.

With the return of dynamic twin seniors Garrett and Jacob Stanford, 1-2 in the Avocado West and 3-2 in the CIF meet last year, La Costa Canyon would be the likely favorite to repeat based on last year’s results alone. “We have a good team coming back,” said Vice. But then, about a month ago, it was “Christmas in July.” That’s when LCC found out that rising junior Caleb Neidnagel, 10th-place finisher in the 2017 Division I State Meet, would be transferring from Dana Hills High School in South Orange County. Just like that, almost anything seems possible for the Maverick boys if everyone stays healthy. Vice also has much-improved junior Andy Pueschel back in the fold.

Inside Word – “The league has changed and on the girls’ side, in addition to Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest, San Marcos has a very good team,” says Vice. “Our job is to hold the title and we’ll probably be the favorite. Our top end runners are well-known but having someone like Natalie Schroeder in the middle of your lineup running 11:20, that’s pretty good. She doesn’t make headlines but she’d be No. 1 or 2 on many teams.

“For the boys, with Caleb on the roster, that gives us quite a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the list . That trio could be the best group of three runners in the state. But you need to have those guys at the 4-5-6-7 slots. We’ve got a handful of kids who could be there—it will be interesting to see who wants them.”

Canyon Crest

Head Coach: Andy Corman (sixth yr.)

2017 Avocado West Finish – Girls (2) / Boys (3)

2017 CIF Finish (Division I) – Girls (1) / Boys (3)

It will be hard for the Ravens to surpass last year’s performance but Corman has plenty of optimism coming into 2018. Interesting possibilities are in ample supply. The girls may have won last year’s CIF D-1 title but the CCA boys appear to have the most returning firepower—also the most interesting story in junior Andrew Schultz. Twelve minutes before last year’s CIF final, then sophomore Schultz was preparing to watch the 2.96-mile contest as the team’s first alternate after being CCA’s eighth finisher at the previous week’s Avocado West meet. Just over 16 minutes after the starting gun, he was All-CIF, finishing 13th when senior Robert Griffith surrendered his spot, feeling Schultz running was best for the team. Schultz enters the 2018 season as a mainstay for the Ravens along with senior Ethan Lee-Bellows. Senior Blake Currier and sophomores Ethan Brown and Joel Gomez, all top 25 Avo West finishers, also return, making CCA a team to watch.

The girls, meanwhile, have just one returnee from last season’s CIF D-1 championship squad but it’s a pretty important piece—junior Carlie Dorostkar, who was fourth individually in the CIF race and had a solid track & field campaign to back it up. She’ll have to be a force, particularly early, as this young squad develops but Corman likes what he’s seen and already feels a “team” building despite all the new parts.

Inside Word: “We’re definitely going to be competitive but I think most would still see us as a young program because we’ve only been around 12 years,” says Corman. “We keep getting better and better and even if we don’t always win, I know our kids are always going to go to bat. It’s a tremendously hard-working group. Our boys are really getting to be a team. Nobody expected us to be third last year and now our guys are beginning to believe in what they can do. They can be amazing.

“Carlie (Dorostkar) is kind of like our program in that she’s still relatively new to the sport. She has a heavy swim background, so she’s a competitor and understands racing mentality. She got in there with the top girls last year and walked away learning a lot. She’s fit and motivated.”

Torrey Pines

Head Coach: Kaitlin Hildebrand (second yr.)

2017 Avocado West Finish – Girls (4) / Boys (2)

2017 CIF Finish (Division 1) – Girls (4) / Boys (2)

Overview – Her most consistent performer, Isabella Aguiar (sixth in the Avo West and seventh in CIF), has graduated but Hildebrand is hoping to mitigate that loss with numbers. Seniors Alison Applegate and Nevaeh Clements and sophomore Paige Endres were all CIF scorers last fall and a huge incoming class of freshmen could have an immediate impact. Endres closed out a strong freshman year by reaching the finals of the CIF 800 in track & field. Clements should be improved after battling injuries for much of 2017.

The Falcon boys lose a trio of seniors—Robert Bartsch, Travis Hellenkamp and Alan Edmonds—who were regularly on the front end of things in 2018 and Hildebrand will be counting on a combination of returners like senior Tristan Cany and junior Nick Salz as well as last year’s strong freshman class, to fill the gaps. Several distance runners from the track & field squad are expected to make their XC debuts.

Inside Word: “In the Avocado West, I would look for us to do the same, if not better than we did last year,” said Hildebrand. “Given the fact that we’ll have pretty new squads on both sides, I’m not necessarily expecting to win league but we want to be in the fight and I think we can do that.”

Head Coach: Kelly Large (first yr.)

2017 Avocado West Finish – Girls (6) / Boys (6)

2017 CIF Finish (Division 2) – Girls (9) / Boys (10)

Overview – After finishing a disappointing sixth in both divisions of last year’s Avocado West standings, new Head Coach Kelly Large, with three years as head coach of the Carlsbad track & field squad under her belt, has been entrusted with rebuilding the Lancer program.

It was a mere four years ago the Lancer boys were at the tail end of a four-year run that included two CIF cross country championships and a pair of section runner-up finishes. So history says the potential is there and Large has a few good building blocks to work with. Sophomore Alexander Klein (19th) and senior Sean Conklin (22nd) were both top 25 finishers in the Avo West and the former was the conference 800 champ in track & field.

A fearfully young Lancer girls’ squad was not ready for the level of competition it encountered in the Avo West a year ago with only Allie Tanita (23rd) and Kristen Young (39th), now a sophomore and junior respectively, placing in the top 40. Large will be looking for natural athletic progression, coupled with the launching of a new culture to push her squad forward. Things looked positive at pre-season camp but the proof will be in the racing.

Inside Word: “These will be the very beginning steps for both teams,” says Large. “We had 35 at our camp in Mammoth and are expecting 65 to come out altogether. We’ll take what we have and prepare them to be their best—shake it up and see what happens.

“The opening of Sage Creek a few years ago really hurt our program and we haven’t fully recovered. Other schools have faced the same sort of situation and responded. We’re going to do the same. We want our program to be taken seriously. That starts with the effort and dedication of our athletes. We need their buy-in to be successful.”

San Marcos

Head Coach: Kevin Chindlund (13th yr.)

2017 Avocado West Finish – New Member

2017 CIF Finish (Division I) – Girls (7) / Boys (4)

Overview - League newcomer San Marcos has the makings of a program that could to stir up the top half of the Avo West standings in both genders. Veteran coach Kevin Chindlund’s boys tied for the Avocado East crown in 2017, claimed fourth in CIF (D-1) and return a slew of upperclassmen from that group. Senior Aiden Katson, seventh in CIF, should be a standout. He’ll have support from fellow seniors Austin Chen, Quinton Schluederberg and Josh Hutchinson, all with plenty of background, as well as junior Jordan Haney.

On the girls’ side, SM was second in the Avocado East and seventh at CIF. Junior Caitlin Cornell affords a solid foundation for this unit. She finished third, ahead of CCA’s Dorostkar at CIF and her time in the Avo East Championship, run on the same day and same site as the Avo West event, would have put her fourth in the latter. The Knights have a lot of question marks behind Cornell though as senior Zoie Valencia (48th) was their next best returning finisher at the section get together last fall.

Inside Word: “We’re excited to be the Avocado West,” says Chindlund. ““It’s a great league and we’re looking forward to facing teams like LCC and Canyon Crest. I think the boys will be really strong and have a lot of depth. We’ve got a good one in Caitlin on the girls’ team but we’re still trying to see what the rest of the lineup is going to look like.

“There are no secrets as far as what it’s going to take. You put in the time, work your butt off and you’ll be there at the end. We tell our kids it comes down to the ‘four C’s’—commitment, consistency, communication and confidence.”

Mission Hills

Head Coach: Hector Menchaca (first year)

2017 Avocado West Finish – New Member

2017 CIF Finish (Division I) – Girls (16) / Boys (9)

Overview – The league’s second first-year coach will be Hector Menchaca, a well-known club coach who is adding the Mission Hills’ position to his resume. The first order of business for the gregarious Menchaca will be getting to know his roster, which figures to be small and comparatively inexperienced. On the girls’ side, the Grizzlies lost their top three runners from ’17 to graduation and will be looking for a rebound from senior Mykenzie Belliotti, who missed the post-season last fall with injuries, as well as continued progress from another junior Jurnee Gregory. Menchaca is also hoping to get some aid from Coach Shawn Coleman’s track & field distance crew.

The Mission Hills boys figure to have the same depth problems as the girls but have a little more returning front of the pack talent in the form of seniors Sean Caster and Jonathan Velasco, both first 10 finishers at last year’s Avocado East and CIF D-I Championships. Caster has already put the notion of getting the team to the State Meet on the table.

Inside Word: As a first-year coach, Menchaca seems to have a good balance of enthusiasm and realism. “I am totally excited about this position,” he said. “Mission Hills is still new to me but it has a great school community and I can see it as a place people are going to want to come. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity and hopefully, we can build something that will be competitive at both the league and CIF level.

“Moving to the Avocado West—I look forward to the challenge but it’s definitely like going into a buzzsaw for us. These teams have all been successful at CIF, all been to State—I hope we can put in the work that will bring us up to that level.”

Key 2018 Racing Dates

Sept. 8 – Bronco Invitational – Kit Carson Park

Sept. 15 – Mt. Carmel Invitational – Morley Field

Sept. 28 – Avocado West League Cluster #1 – Guajome Park

Oct. 25 – Avocado West League Cluster #2 – Maverick Meadows

Nov. 17 – San Diego CIF Championships – Morley Field

Nov. 24 – California State CIF Championships – Woodward Park

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