After winning the 2018 CIF boys and girls CIF Division II Championships, the La Costa Canyon cross country team sports a run of four consecutive years with dual section victories. They’ve also owned the Avocado West League during that stretch.
As the 2019 campaign rolls into its opening weeks, the most notable names may be the ones that are missing from the foster of the the defending champion Mavericks. Gone are state champion Kristin Fahy and her running mate Jessica Riedman on the girls’ side and lost to graduation in the boys’ lineup is the twin tandem of Garrett and Jacob Stanford. The latter pair will be running at Brigham Young this fall while Fahy has joined the Stanford squad and Riedman is across the country at Penn.
So does this signal a changing of the guard in San Diego, specifically the Avo West? Well, local rivals Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines are certainly aiming to give LCC a run for its money but it’s probably a bit early to start suggesting the end of the line for the Maverick dynasty.
“We’ll miss the talent and leadership they brought every day,” said Head Coach Bill Vice, who’s presided over a history of excellence that’s lasted more than two decades at La Costa Canyon. He was talking about the Stanford boys when he made that comment but it really applies just as surely to Fahy and Riedman.
“Those are kids that have been in that position for three-plus years and you just knew they weren’t going to lose a cross country race at the end,” continued Vice. “They always seemed to just will themselves to win and were like that in leading the team. I never had to worry about anything.”
But while Vice is aware that some special talents have departed, he’s also excited about what he’s got returning. He knows that although his charges may have different challenges in front of them this fall, the championship goals are still the same. One thing that LCC’s brilliance has done is compelled its competitors to step up their games—something that’s been a benefit to the entire local prep running community.
Over the next two months fans will have an opportunity to see just how much LCC’s opponents have stepped up to the task of catching the Mavericks and how the current kingpin will respond. Here’s a quick look at LCC and its two district adversaries (Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines), heading into Saturday’s first major race of the season, the annual Bronco Invitational at Kit Carson Park in Escondido.
La Costa Canyon
On the boys’ squad, even without the Stanfords, Vice has plenty of optimism. “Overall, we’re probably not going to be as good as last year but I really like what we have,” he said. “I think we should definitely be considered the favorite in the league and probably CIF.” La Costa Canyon will again compete at the CIF Division II level.
The Mavs bring back five of seven runners who were part of last year’s team that went to the nationals after finishing second in the California State Championship. They will be spearheaded by senior Caleb Niednagel who, as a junior, teamed with the Stanfords to give LCC a “three-headed monster” in the lead pack. Niednagel placed third behind his two teammates at the ’18 CIF meet and was the team’s top individual at the State Meet. He would have to be considered a threat to win both this time around.
At an early time trial, there were nine runners who finished within a minute of Niednagel and LCC’s ability to repeat will hinge largely on the development of that group. “I think we’ll have a great pack and think a lot of those guys can really go far,” said Vice. “That said, it’s always good when you have that low stick that you can count on for one point nearly every time out.”
Among those pulling behind Niednagel will be “bigger, stronger” senior Andy Pueschel, a reliable sort who was top 10 at CIF as a junior and current junior Jackson Schalow, who missed the end of last season with injuries but ran third in the opening time trial.
Vice likes the mind-set of his boys. “We have a lot of seniors back who saw what happened last year,” said Vice. “They went to the mountain and are very serious about going back and finishing the job.”
Teamwork will be essential for the LCC girls as well. They have the tools to win this year but may be even better down the line since there are no seniors in the top seven. In the considerable wake of Fahy and Riedman last year, standouts like sophomore Kyra Compton and junior Sydney Weaber flew under the radar but were third and fourth place CIF finishers last November. Another soph, Rebekah Niednagel, Caleb’s sister, was still getting her feet wet during the 2018 cross country drive before coming into her own in track & field last spring. Georgia Patyna and Jessica Oden are two other names to watch.
Vice feels Compton and Weaber will drive each other and are ready to step into more prominent roles.
“Both of their personalities came out over the summer,” observed Vice. “It’s really neat to see them come to the forefront and they’ve really embraced their new roles and the leadership that is part of that.”
Coach Andy Corman has built Canyon Crest into a program that regularly has both teams on the top half of the Avocado West table and contending in CIF Division I. Coming off a strong 2018 effort which saw both groups finish in the CIF top four, Corman believes his girls can definitely lay down a challenge for LCC while the re-tooling boys still “have some work to do.”
In resolute senior Carlie Dorostkar, the Raven girls have perhaps the best individual runner in the section. She posted the second fastest overall time while winning the CIF D-I crown last year and was sixth overall at the State Meet. Corman says she’s still trending upward.
“If she can stay healthy, Carlie has the potential to be as good or better than she was last season,” says Corman. “She’s looking fitter than I’ve ever seen her and has plenty of experience against top level people.”
Senior Allison Rios and junior Elizabeth Emberger, able reinforcements for Dorostkar, also came into fall camp off productive summers. The threesome of Renee Skaggs, Mia Miesen and Delaney Lee-Bellows figure to provide sound depth. So far, the Ravens have passed the coach’s eye test.
“Just watching, we look stronger than our CIF Championship team of two years ago,” says Corman.
The CCA boys will need a strong pack to succeed but in senior Andrew Schulz definitely have quality on the front end. Schulz was third in last year’s CIF race and Corman says, “Andrew’s a quiet, meticulous thinker who likes a race plan and always sticks to it. He’s getting more and more confident all the time and seems primed for his best year.”
Third-year runner, senior Reid Gross and junior Jake Shuman, a former lacrosse player, will make their presence felt.
New Torrey Pines Head Coach Kyle Goodenough, a Falcon assistant a year ago, envisions a collective capable of taking a big step forward after fielding a very young team in 2018.
The Torrey boys didn’t have a senior in their top seven then and the majority of what today should be a deep roster are still non-seniors. Senior Nick Salz is the ringleader and will have ample support from the likes of seniors Josh Mendez and A.J. Castellanos as well as juniors Sebastian Barclay and Cormac O’Brien. Goodenough is eager to see what Salz can deliver this fall.
“Nick has all the talent in the world and a great work ethic,” said Goodenough. “He gives us what we need as an individual and from a leadership perspective—he really doesn’t have a ceiling.”
Salz sophomore sister, Annika, is also a budding star after qualifying for the CIF State Championships in her rookie prep season. She heads up a strong core that includes seniors Kiana Bourgeois and Eva Mountzouris and junior Hannah Jian.
“Annie is a one of a kind runner,” says Goodenough of Salz. “She has a soccer background which gives her a bit of a competitive edge and is very coachable.
“Last year was a big growing year for both the boys and girls and we have high hopes for what we’re going to be able to do this season.”