Upsets abound at the City Section cross-country championships

Upsets were the story Saturday morning at the City Section cross-country championships at Pierce College, as neither of the pre-race favorites won the Division I individual title on the slightly altered three-mile course.

Cleveland senior Joseph Vargas passed two-time champion Max Fields of Palisades as they started up the last hill and he picked up speed on the down slope, taking first place in the boys' race in a personal-best 15:07.70 to spoil Fields’ bid to become the boys’ first three-time winner. Fields was second in 15:18.50.

“I let him lead the whole time, but I stayed close behind him,” said Vargas, who won his heat at preliminaries a week before and was the City champion at 1,600 meters in the spring. “This is the first time I’ve beaten Max in cross-country. Last year he beat me by about 40 seconds. I knew he was faster than me, but I figured if it came down to the last 800 and I was 10 meters behind him, I’d win.”

“I lost my momentum going around the turns and I couldn’t execute the aggressive pace I started with,” said Fields, whose freshman season got canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic before he won in 15:22.5 as a sophomore and repeated in 15:08.9 last fall. “The mud really messes with you.”

Pablo Rosales of San Pedro set the finals record at Pierce with a time of 14:31.3 in 2009. Vargas’ winning time was the fastest finals effort since El Camino Real junior Justin Hazell clocked 14:57.87 in 2016.

Although he was denied a trifecta, Fields still helped the Dolphins capture their third straight team title and sixth total with 23 points. They set a team time standard of 1:17:21.11, breaking the record of 1:17:42.8 set by Belmont’s 1997 squad.

In the Division I girls' race, Palisades freshman Zoey Morris and Granada Hills sophomore Samantha Pacheco traded the lead on the switchbacks before Morris found another gear in the third mile and prevailed by almost 13 seconds in a personal-best 17:41 — an astonishing time considering she clocked 18:09.5 to finish second behind Pacheco at preliminaries while shaving 1:11 off her previous best on the course.

“My goal was to stay with Sammy as long as I could,” Morris said. “I was trying to keep my normal pace the same as hers. The change in course wasn’t too bad … there were a few puddles I had to go around, but it was no big deal.”

Palisades also took the team title with 31 points, snapping Granada Hills’ streak of five consecutive titles. Pacheco was trying to become the Highlanders’ fifth consecutive individual winner following Sofia Abrego in 2018 and 2019, Isabel Castagnola in 2021 and Meztli Velasquez in 2022. Morris’ winning time was the fastest since Abrego clocked 17:33.81 as a freshman five years ago.

Three-time champion Marissa Williams of Palisades set the girls’ finals record of 16:33.11 as a senior in 2014.

Palisades notched its seventh girls' title and first since 2016 by placing three runners in the top 10 — Morris, Louisa Mammen (third in 18:47.00) and senior Kyra Morris (Zoey’s older sister), who was fourth in 18:52.60. The Dolphins’ team score was 31 points better than runner-up Granada Hills and 71 better than third-place Cleveland.

Anticipating showers during the meet, CIF officials were prepared to switch to a three-lap course covering 5 kilometers around Pierce’s Shepherd Stadium, which was last used in 2010, but the rain subsided in time for the normal course to be used, with minor variations on steep hills to mitigate the possibility of slipping.

Monroe edged Eagle Rock by one point to win the boys’ Division II title thanks to the Vikings’ Jorge Montenegro beating Eagle Rock’s Connor Dolan by one second with a time of 15:56.40 to win the individual title.

Canoga Park’s Angelina Valladares and Angelina Lopez took first and second in the Division II girls' race to lead the Hunters to the team title.


San Clemente repeated as Southern Section Division 1 boys' cross-country champion on Saturday, winning on the wet course at Mt. San Antonio College.

Jason Parra of Long Beach Millikan won the Division 1 individual race in 13:57.4. Santa Barbara edged Ventura to win the Division 2 team title, with Andreas Dybdahl winning the individual race in 14:04.5. Cathedral's Emmanuel Perez won Division 4 in 14:09.1. Evan Noonan of Dana Hills had the fastest time of the day, winning Division 3 in 13:56.

In Division 1 girls, Corona Santiago won the team title behind Rylee Blade, who won the individual title in 15:32.8.

In Division 2 girls, Ventura won the team title and Sadie Engelhardt had the day's fastest girls time in 15:26.8.

The state championships will be held next weekend at Woodward Park in Fresno.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.