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PAUL RODRIGUEZ , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Thomas Wilfert, John Turner, Jack Landgraf, Brandon Hough, from center left, of the top-ranked Dana Hills cross country team.

Dana Hills isn't ready to back down

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It doesn’t seem possible on the surface, but Dana Hills’ boys cross country team never seems to go through a rebuilding year.

Last December, the Dolphins appeared to have reached the top of the mountain when they achieved a podium finish at the Nike Cross Nationals.

That was done with the help of legendary coach Tim Butler and All-County seniors Mason Coppi and Jake Ogden.

They’ve all moved on. Butler has retired from coaching, ending his 43-year reign at Dana Hills. Coppi and Ogden are now at Furman University, continuing their running careers.

Yet somehow, the expectation in the county is that Dana Hills will be just as good, and possibly better, in 2016. The Dolphins opened the season as the top-ranked team in CIF-SS Division 1, ahead of defending national champion Great Oak of Temecula.

“It’s a testament to the boys themselves who have put the work in, to the coaches that have stood by their side and guided them,” Dolphins coach Craig Dunn said of the program’s ability to consistently produce.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be ranked No. 1 by CIF, but the only one that matters is the final rankings.”

The new guard at Dana Hills has some familiar faces. All-County junior Jack Landgraf returns, along with seniors Brandon Hough, Thomas Wilfert and John Turner.

Dunn coached alongside Butler for 17 years. He said that while he looks at his team as a band of brothers, it’s imperative that new leaders emerge this year.

Much of those responsibilities figure to fall on the shoulders of Landgraf, who was fourth last year in the Orange County Championships.

Landgraf says he is going to miss having Coppi and Ogden in his ear, but he thinks this year’s team is starting off on the right foot.

“It’s different without Mason and Jake,” Landgraf said. “It’s been harder for me just because I’ve always had them to talk to and get advice from, but I think we’re making our way along pretty nicely.”

The Dolphins’ ace has high aspirations for his team and himself. He wants the team to bring home a state title, and he hopes to pace the field in that race.

Landgraf says the team has a lesson to learn in the early going. The Dolphins started the season ahead of Great Oak in the CIF-SS rankings a year ago, too.

“I think for some of us, it made us think that we could kind of settle,” he said. “It wasn’t the best mindset thinking about it. This year, with the rankings coming out, we decided it doesn’t matter where we are as opposed to what we do in the future.”

The top county challenger to Dana Hills is expected to be Brea Olinda (No. 1 in Division 3), which must deal with the impossible task of replacing Oregon signee Austin Tamagno.


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