San Diego preps back in action with cross country meet

Runners from Francis Parker and Santa Fe Christian competed in a cross country meet Thursday at San Dieguito County Park.
Runners from Francis Parker and Santa Fe Christian competed in a cross country meet Thursday at San Dieguito County Park on the first day of the new high school sports season. Kenan Pala (121) of Francis Parker won the race.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Santa Fe Christian defeats Francis Parker but everyone is just happy to be competing again after 11-month absence


Never has the word “GO” had so much meaning and brought so much joy.

Without a starter’s pistol, Santa Fe Christian High cross country coach Demian Kloer yelled “GO” and high school athletics was back after a COVID-19 delay of 338 days as SFC hosted Francis Parker in a boys and girls dual cross country meet at San Dieguito County Park.

It was the first of a handful of cross country meets on Thursday, Feb. 11, signaling a return to prep sports in San Diego.

There were more dual meets Thursday, Feb. 11 and scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 13.

Swimming is next up for competition, followed by coed tennis and boys and girls golf.

There is guarded optimism for a five-game football season.

“It was nostalgic, very nice to be racing again,” said Francis Parker junior Kenan Pala after blazing to a 15:54.49 over the hilly 3-mile course on a picture-perfect day. “After the 2019 season ended, it’s hard to believe we had to wait until 2021 to race again.”

Pala and Santa Fe Christian rival Alex Bobowski last raced as preps 437 days ago at the State Meet in Fresno.

Pala, the San Diego Section Division V champion, finished fourth in the state in 2019; Bobowski was 11th.

They finished 1-2 on Thursday, Feb. 11 with Bobowski, also a junior, running 16:28.73.

Santa Fe Christian won the boys Coastal League meet 22-35.

Santa Fe Christian also won the girls varsity meet 16-41 with SFC sophomore Revere Schmidt running 19:50.02, winning by 32 seconds over teammate Eloise Martenson.

“I look forward to training, and all this time has been a blessing in disguise,” Pala said. “I’ve never had this much time to train. Never really been in better shape.

“To run this first meet against SFC, against our archrivals, against Alex, was exciting. It was nice to have a rush of prerace adrenaline. It was great to experience that again. It took a little bit, but by the mile mark, I knew we were racing again.”

Bobowski said his 11th-place finish at state “left a bad taste in my mouth.”

And he didn’t train over the summer as he normally would for a regular August start to the cross country season.

“I figured this meet would be Kenan and I going mano-y-mano,” Bobowski said. “It was just good to be racing again, but I was trying not to kill myself.

“It’s really cool to have a rival like Kenan where there is no margin for error.

“I imagine we’ll meet again this season.”

The Santa Fe Christian girls are the defending Division V champions and finished third in the state behind Martenson, who finished seventh, and Schmidt, who was 12th.

“With the long layoff, I’ve been training more, and I’m in better shape,” said Schmidt, a three-sport athlete who is giving up swimming this season, but hoping to play water polo.

“It was great to race again, to test myself, to push a little, to see if the hard work would pay off.

“I was nervous at the start of the race. Eloise and I are training partners, so I knew I was ready to go.”

With most parks around the county closed, cross country teams around the county have had to find alternate race sites with the majority mapping out campus courses.

SFC doesn’t have a home course and usually runs its races as the road team.

But Parker doesn’t have access to Mission Bay Park, its home course.

SFC Athletic Director Doug Miller said he was fortunate to rent San Dieguito County Park for a nominal fee.

All safety directives were followed. Spectators — and there was a nice crowd for a cross country meet — were mandated to distance and wear masks.

Runners wore masks at the start of races, but could remove them once they were in the clear.

Runners were encouraged to mask up when passing someone or finishing.

“I think it went really well,” Bobowski said. “In the San Diego Section, the cross country community is really tight. We all know this is an abbreviated season. We’re all hoping this is just the start.”

— John Maffei is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune