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SUBURBAN LEAGUE CROSS COUNTRY FINALS:  Norwalk girls go back to back, La Mirada boys end long championship drought

Editor’s Note: Natalie Juarez’ time was published in error in print, it is corrected in this online edition. It was printed at 23:05, Juarez’ actual time was 21:05. We apologize for the error.


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


LA MIRADA-The La Mirada High girls cross country team had dominated the Suburban League last decade, winning 10 straight league championships. Now, its former coach, Ralph Cases, is hoping to do the same with a new school.

For the second straight year, Norwalk High ran away from the competition, picking up 22 team points last Thursday afternoon at La Mirada Regional Park, as the program is slowly building up to becoming a major force in the league as well as the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section’s Division 3.

“When I came into the Norwalk program, there was loads of talent,” Casas said. “And the only thing I really had to do is work with them and show them that if they work together and combine their talents, they would be that much stronger. And then if they held each other accountable and if they practiced those habits of champions, then inevitably they would become champions. That’s all I did.”

Casas, who was at La Mirada for 17 years where he won 14 league titles, is now in his fourth year Norwalk and witnessed juniors Misty Diaz (18:37) and Ruby Galindo (18:55) easily distance themselves from everyone else with the top two spots. The third place runner, Aleah Brooks of La Mirada, crossed the finish line at 19:35.

Norwalk would get the fifth and sixth place runners in senior Alejandra De La O (20:17) and junior Jessica Robles (20:40) while freshman Natalie Juarez was eighth with a time of 21:05.

“I’d like to talk about [Natalie Juarez] too,” Casas said. “This young lady is a freshman and came out halfway through the summer and moved up to a varsity spot. She has more talent as a freshman than any other freshman I’ve ever coached.

“It’s probably no coincidence that Misty and Ruby have both put in the most miles and have had the fewest absences and just are competitors more so than the other girls on the team,” he continued. “They have that competitive nature.”

La Mirada finished in second place with 39 team points while Cerritos, which won the league finals in 2013 and 2014, came in third place with 81 points. The top Cerritos runner was sophomore Jaide Lin, who came in 10th place with a time of 21.25. The next Lady Don harrier was junior Brianna Katsuda, a 15th place finisher at 22:19 while junior Laura Sato was two spots behind her at 22:38.

But the story of the day, as well as the past few seasons has been centered on Norwalk, which is ranked fourth in Division 3. Casas said that the program has never had as many as 40 girls come out as was the case for this season. In fact, before last season, no Norwalk girls team had won a league title since 1994.

“One of the hooks I used to sell them on buying into working hard and growing as a team was look at what the guys have done,” Casas remembered. “How are you any different for them? What makes them better? That really hit them hard because they realized that if they wanted it, they could do it as well.”

As for the upcoming weeks, the Lady Lancers have a solid chance of doing something special in the CIF finals as well as the state finals. Diaz and Galindo are ranked in the top 10 in Division 3 and Diaz is in the top 10 in the state for Division 3. However, Casas is quick to remind people that the league is still very competitive as La Mirada and Cerritos still have the potential to win a league crown in any given year.

“I just told the girls before the race, fear no one but respect everyone,” Casas said. “That’s what we do. As a matter of fact, we don’t race to beat these teams. We race to get to state. That was our goal from day one and the league title just happened to be a stepping stone along the way.”

On the boys side, Cerritos senior Bill Chuang did something that no other Cerritos boys runner had done before-win back to back races in the league finals. After coming in first place last year with a time of 16:28, Chuang was the top harrier at 16:15. But it was La Mirada that won the race with 22 points. The Dons were second with 39 points with Norwalk coming in at third with 95 points. La Mirada’s league championship was its first since 1996.

“After being injured throughout the beginning of the year and facing the tough competition from La Mirada this year, it was a great accomplishment for Bill to finish with back to back league championships,” said Cerritos head coach Jason Watanabe. “He has always been a hard worker who always asks to do more, to stay in the weight room longer, or takes it upon himself to do what is necessary.”

After La Mirada had the next four runners cross the finish line after Chuang, Cerritos freshman Cole Sawires Yager (16:43) and junior Jaineel Patel (16:51) took the next two spots.

Senior Edwin Munoz was the first Norwalk runner with a time of 16:58 while sophomore Antonio Calderon was John Glenn High’s leading runner, finishing in 13th with a time of 17:09. Glenn racked up 126 points and finished in fifth place.

Going into the season, Watanabe predicted Cerritos to finish in third place based on the returners he had. He said that the team made some improvements, but La Mirada did as well.

“While we did improve, it’s difficult knowing that we did not have a league race where all of our varsity boys ran well on the same day,” Watanabe said. “At every [league] cluster, someone different was ailing from hips to fatigue and I even had an athlete who was recovering after being hit by a car on his bike before league finals. We didn’t have any luck on our side in that regard, but I give a lot of credit to La Mirada as they made it so we would have to run our best to have a chance.”