Sunny Hills boys and girls cross country places consistently across age divisions in the Wayne Walker XC Invitational

Sophomore+Esther+Kim+sprints+to+the+finish+line+during+the+Sunny+Hills+Wayne+Walker+Invitational+Sept.+25+at+Fullerton%E2%80%99s+Craig+Park.+Kim+placed+fifth+in+the+girls+sophomore+division.+

Kristel Laceste

Sophomore Esther Kim sprints to the finish line during the Sunny Hills Wayne Walker Invitational Sept. 25 at Fullerton’s Craig Park. Kim placed fifth in the girls sophomore division.

Jaimie Chun

Four Lancer cross country runners – three boys and one girl – placed in the Top 10 of their 3-mile races at the 27th annual Wayne Walker Invitational at Fullerton’s Craig Park.

Although Eastvale’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Riverside County took first place in the boys and girls overall divisions, the Lancers collected a total of nine individual medals, and three groups — senior men, sophomore men and sophomore women — placed Top 10 in team results.

“To be hosting a meet and to participate in the meet is a lot mentally and physically,” boys and girls cross country head coach Jacob Holloway said. “But they’ve been meeting or exceeding my expectations, and for them to do this well with at least three Top 5 finishes is really good.”

Alongside a few schools from the Freeway League, including Buena Park, La Habra and Fullerton, the Lancers competed with 1,200 runners from a total of 34 schools on Sept. 25. The Top 50 individual finishers in each race received identical medals in their respective age and gender category, leading to a total of eight races being held at the meet.

Among the Lancers medaling was senior Noah Flores, whose 16:04.6 landed him fifth place in the men’s senior division.

Flores said his decisive moment in the race came when he passed three runners coming down a hill, which built his momentum.

“Getting fifth out of 130 runners, I was surprised and happy because my goal was to run faster than my competitors, who were really strong runners,” Flores said. 

Fellow Lancer boys cross country runner, senior Zachary Gomez, followed closely with a sixth-place time of 16:05.5.

“We’re always motivating each other because every race is different between whether [Flores] is in front or I’m in front,” Gomez said. “But I think I did pretty well because hills have been a weakness of mine, so I did the best that I could by placing my best foot forward for this meet.”

Flores and Gomez’s times helped in the overall team category for seniors boys that included five runners from Sunny Hills in which the Lancers placed seventh with a time of 1:30:53.7.

Newcomer freshman Zachary Cardona had an even stronger showing in the freshman boys category, taking the first-place trophy — the only one for Sunny Hills — with a 16:34.6 time.

“It was good for Cardona to race at grade level, and the runner he beat had one of the Top 10 freshman times in the state this year, so there was some excellent competition on the day as well,” Holloway said. “He showed heart and great ability to pull off the victory, and it’s a sign of things to come from him.”

The freshman cross country runner attributed his success to the goals he has established for himself this season as well as to the encouragement he received from other Lancer runners.

“When I was at my final 800 meters, my teammates cheered me on, which motivated me to finish off really strong and end up getting first,” Cardona said. “My goals were set very high from the start because I knew the course very well, and I knew that I could keep up with some of the top runners in my age group, so I was really proud that my time was only 15 seconds off my point record.” 

RESULTS FROM THE LADY LANCERS

Some of the Lady Lancer cross country runners also had a strong performance at the invitational. Sophomore Esther Kim’s 19:56.8 allowed her to secure a fifth-place finish for her age group with the closest Sunny Hills running mate ending up to be sophomore Katelyn Marin, whose 23:31.3 locked up 26th place.

“There was a girl behind me, and people kept cheering for her and telling her to catch up to me, and it kept scaring me, so that kind of kept me on my toes,” Kim said. “I guess I also struggled with being nervous, but I put less pressure on myself knowing that as long as I gave my full effort, that’s pretty much all I could do.”

Especially after battling an injury to the hip and thigh area, Marin said she is proud that her preparation translated over to her performance.

“Honestly, coming back from an injury, I could have just expected for the best and just being here, but I think I did better than I expected and did everything I was supposed to do,” she said. “Coming down one of the hills, I was about to be cut off, so I sprinted on the corners to have an advantage.”

Led by Kim and Marin, the sophomore Lady Lancers placed sixth in their overall age division.

“The girls did really well and showed improvement from previous meets this year,” Holloway said.

The Lancers will have their second Freeway League meet Oct. 6 against all the schools in the league.