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Valley Christian cross country squads open ’20-’21 season in winning fashion

VC HIGH girls cross country team prepares to kick off the 2020-2021 season. From left to right: freshman Juliet Chang, sophomore Katherine Padilla, junior Sophia Moreno, junior Meg Pheifer, senior Angie Prieto and sophomore Wesli Oeh. The Lady Defenders won the cluster meet, picking up 29 points.

 

Nearly six months after the high school cross country season was supposed to start in a normal year, Valley Christian High hosted the first of two Olympic League cluster meets last Saturday morning. In this unprecedented season because of the global pandemic, the cross country season was to have started in late December and this meet was originally scheduled to take place on Jan. 20.

But with cleared waivers, extensive protocols put in the place and the green light given by the CIF-Southern Section, the first athletic event of any area high school went off without a hitch and V.C. took advantage of the situation. The Lady Defenders got by Maranatha High 29-36 and about a half an hour later, the V.C. boys had an easier time, defeating Heritage Christian High 24-47.

 

 

 

THE FIRST Olympic League girls meet of the season gets started on the VC High campus. Sophomore Wesli Oeh (fifth from the right) officially came in first place, but was the second runner to cross the finish line with a time of 21:48.

“I’m so elated; it’s been a long year, period,” said V.C. first-year head coach Craig Henry. “When we first went on this quarantine thing last March, we were in track season and they cancelled track season. I felt so sorry for these kids, especially the seniors. All of this is going on and it stings and it’s not in their control. It’s just been rough and I’m just glad these kids are able to get out safely, get some sunshine, get some athletic training in [and] get some relief from the stresses of life. It’s not normal right now, yet, but it’s getting better.”

V.C. was cleared to start practicing on July 7, but the high school was locked down a week later and the program didn’t start up again until November, but on a limited basis, according to Henry.

Before the pandemic, V.C. had been training five to six days a week and up until two weeks ago, the program had not been training five days a week; it had been training only Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“It’s been sporadic; the training,” Henry said.  “I’m so surprised that these kids did so well. We just try and go by what the CIF rules tell us to do,” Henry said. “I tell the kids nothing is set in stone and right now. We have to roll with the punches, and we have to just pray about our season and what we can control and what we can’t control. And what we can’t control, we’re not going to worry about it. We’re just going to enjoy being out when we can and then if we can’t, we just can’t.”

The girls team, which had won nine consecutive league championships from 2010-2018, is limited this year with only seven runners. The Lady Defenders do not have a junior varsity team this season and one of the varsity runners was not present due to a dental appointment. In the past, V.C. has had a junior varsity team and a varsity team. Still, V.C. was able to get a strong performance as five of the six runners officially finished within the top 11. Village Christian High’s Sophia Harvey won the race with a time of 21:25. But she was one of three runners from her school. Right behind her were sophomore Wesli Oeh, who had a time of 21:48, and junior Sophia Moreno, who clocked in at 22:30. Oeh is picking up where she left off last season when she came in third place in the league finals, only to be beaten by Harvey and another Village Christian runner, Mia Barnett, who is nationally ranked.

 

 

VC HIGH first-year head coach Craig Henry gives final instructions to the 31 boys cross country runners during the first Olympic League cluster meet of the season. V.C. won by 23 points over Heritage Christian as junior Daniel Koops claimed second place with a time of 16:43.

 

“You worry when you’re limited like that,” Henry said. “But I saw all the other teams limited as well and I imagine some parents are afraid to bring their kids out. They understand that we’ve followed the COVID protocol strictly and we make sure that these kids are safe when they’re out here participating. We just have a young team.”

Henry said he saw the team break away from Maranatha because of the running from sophomore Katherine Padilla, who is running cross country for the first time. When Henry saw her placing well, he knew V.C. had a chance to win. He added that he knew it was going to be close because Maranatha looked good. Padilla was the team’s fifth runner to cross the finish line at 26:48, barely edging Maranatha’s fifth runner, Abigail Tu, who came in at 26:52.

Freshman Juliet Chang placed sixth with a time of 24:42 and three spots later was junior Meg Pheifer at 26:07. The final V.C. runner to compete was senior Angie Prieto, who had a time of 28:56.

The race featured only 26 runners with V.C., Maranatha and Heritage Christian (62 points) fielding at least six runners. Village Christian had three runners while Whittier Christian High had a pair of competitors.

The boys race was a little more complete with three schools fielding seven runners and another school having six runners. The strength of V.C.’s top five runners propelled the Defenders to the easy win over Heritage Christian.

“We had a good race, and to tell you the truth, two of my varsity boys did not run varsity today; they ran j.v.,” Henry said. “We’re going to be fine; the team is going to be really well. [Junior] Daniel Koops is just so talented. I think that he’s a little disappointed that he let [Heritage Christian’s] Dylan Brown get ahead of him. But I think he’s going to try to correct that next time. So, it’s going to be exciting.”

Brown was the overall winner at 16:11 with Koops coming in second place with a time of 16:43. But, the Defenders would own the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh spots, led by sophomore Matthew Kubler (17:51). The transfer from Mayfair High was followed by junior Caleb Wojciechowski (18:20) and seniors Isaac Rubio (18:26) and Pedro Ventura (18:30).

Sophomores Peter Kolotian and Steven Nour rounded out V.C.’s team, finishing in 10th place (19:56) and 12th place (20:11) respectively.

Maranatha picked up 66 points and Village Christian had 97 points. Whittier Christian had only four runners.

“I would have liked to have all the teams have the sufficient amount of runners,” Henry said. “But I totally understand. Some of the parents had some concerns about [the runners] coming to the meet. So, that’s the reason why they didn’t have enough runners to participate. Hopefully when they see how well the meet was run today and how safe we are, and I told them that the COVID protocols would be in full effect, that perhaps they’ll allow them to run at the next meet. But we just have to see.” Most of the runners arrived in vehicles as there were no more than one or two school busses and they had to report to the start line with their masks on. However, if they were comfortable with pulling them down to their necks, they could do so, according to Henry.

Henry, who is retired, was the previous head coach at Covina High before coming to V.C. where he had been the program’s assistant coach the past three seasons. He said he would have preferred to remain as an assistant at V.C. He takes over for former head coach Christina Dekker.

“When Christina, because of her family obligations…she needed to leave and step away and there was no one else to coach, especially with what’s going on now these days,” Henry said. “They couldn’t get anyone else to coach. So, for that reason, I was glad to step in and take the place of Christina.

“She was there today,” he continued. “We miss her. She’s a really good lady; a really good coach. So, we miss her. She comes around to help, but she does have family obligations and that’s the reason why she had to leave.”

The next league meet will be on Feb. 20, also on the V.C. campus. The other courses that the league uses, which are Craig Park in Fullerton and Hansen Dam, the home course for Heritage Christian, are currently closed for athletic events. Cross country is the only fall season sport cleared to play in all but five counties in the state. The other five have been cleared to play other sports in addition to cross country.