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FILE: MINDY SCHAUER , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Capistrano Valley's Haley Herberg was first-team All-County in 2015.

South Coast teams will lead the way again

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

At the onset of the girls cross country season, there are many questions that can only be answered by letting the season play out.

It won’t take that long to answer this question – what is the strongest league in Orange County?

Year after year, the South Coast League is home to some of the area’s strongest competitors. Four of the league’s girls squads start the season in the Register’s Orange County top 10.

Dana Hills sits atop the season-opening rankings. The Dolphins finished last season strong, defeating Trabuco Hills, 32-55, in the South Coast League Finals.

Kathryn Kaloroumakis, Lauren Soto, Alyssa White and Sarah Meng give the Dolphins four runners that could run sub-18-minute times.

Dolphins coach Chris Cota has a firm belief his team will be able to remain on top, though he can’t deny they will be challenged.

“Our league is so strong,” he said. “It seems we’re always having to have our A-game.”

So what makes the South Coast League a force to be reckoned with from year to year? Ken Sayles, who has coached at Capistrano Valley since 1989, thinks he has the answer.

“We’ve all decided that we’re going to be championship teams,” Sayles said, adding that titles are not won by accident. “It’s kind of simple in a way, though you still have to execute it.

“I think it’s the mindset that we consistently have. We’re not satisfied.”

The South Coast League has won seven of the last nine county championships on the girls side. The Cougars won back-to-back titles before Trabuco Hills won it last year.

Capistrano Valley will be led by junior Haley Herberg, who was an All-County selection last season.

New to the South Coast League is Mission Viejo, which captured the Sea View League championship last season. The Diablos grabbed attention in 2015 with three talented freshmen – Kelli Hines, Morgan Calcagnie and Emma Hicken.

A dominant track season solidified Mission Viejo’s status as a top program, and mid-distance runner Whitney Hessler has joined the cross country team this season.

The Diablos, ranked third in the county, opened the season with an impressive showing at the Cool Breeze Invitational. They had five girls under 19 minutes and were seventh overall (second among county teams).

Hines fininshed first with a time in 16:54. Her time leads the nation’s 3-milers by 1.6 seconds.

It appears the South Coast League might be trading one great champion for another. Tesoro’s Amanda Gehrich, a two-time state champion in the mile, is now at Utah. Diablos coach Chase Frazier believes Hines has elite potential.

“We think that she can have a similar career or maybe even top it off,” Frazier said. “This cross country time of under 17 minutes was a big start for her.

“To open up with the nation’s leading time is pretty nice for us.”

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