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El Toro's Gonzalez captures state cross country title
FRESNO – When two of his toughest competitors passed him along the final straightway of the Division 1 state final, it seemed as if the remarkable season produced by El Toro senior Juan Gonzalez would come to a close without a state title.
But one final determined burst just seconds before crossing the finish line ensured that Gonzalez's highly accomplished season would end with the state's biggest prize.
In a photo finish, Gonzalez nosed out Arcadia junior Estevan De La Rosa by one-tenth of second to win the individual state title at the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
"I gave it my all, went all out, and knew that I just wanted to get him," Gonzalez said.
He becomes the first El Toro runner to win the individual state title since Brandon Bethke in 2004.
"He is a talented young man with a lot of great qualities," Chargers coach Rick Hagin said. "He responded well to the plan."
Gonzalez was near the front of the pack early at the first mile marker and took the lead during the latter portion of the second mile.
Gonzalez appeared ready to sprint away with a comfortable victory as he approached the final portion of the race, but De La Rosa and Apaches teammate Mitchell Pratt each put on a burst and passed Gonzalez midway into the final straightway.
Gonzalez then put in one final kick to catch Pratt, and then in the final 5 meters, edged in front of De La Rosa as the two runners strode across the finish line at nearly the exact same time.
After review by CIF officials, Gonzalez was credited with a time of 15:04.8, with De La Rosa clocking 15:04.9. Pratt finished third in 15:06.
"Pratt was right with me the whole race, but with about 400 meters to go, I thought I had him because of his breathing and I because I felt good," Gonzalez said. "I attempted to make my move and had about a 10-meter lead, but right as we came to final grass part of the course, De La Rosa and Pratt both came by and passed me.
"I was transitioning into my final kick, but when I saw them pass me, it forced me to accelerate even faster," Gonzalez said.
Edison senior Jeff Thies capped a strong season by finishing ninth in a time of 15:27.
"I felt ready for this and was just telling myself to stay mentally strong," Thies said. "My plan was to start moving with about 600 meters to go and I wanted to hold on to be able to catch people in the last stretch."
In the team competition, Dana Hills (207) finished eight and Trabuco Hills (284) placed 11th.
Two big injuries contributed to St. Margaret's coming up short in its quest to become only the second county team in history to win three consecutive state titles. Brandon Price (stress fracture in left hip) and Sebastian Luna (stress fracture in right shin) were late scratches, and the Tartans placed 12th in Division 5.
"The last thing we want to do is get the kids hurt because they have futures beyond high school," Tartans co-coach Rob Lakeman said."We had a nice run, and it's disappointing, but we refocused our goals. We will reload and things look good for the future."
Canyon senior Austin Goins (15:17) was the top county finisher in Division 2, placing fourth.
"I learned a lot from CIF-SS finals and the pace was really fast," Goins said. "I put on my surges and that kept me focused and carried me to the finish line."
Godinez senior Jose Penaloza (15:19) produced his second consecutive top-10 finish, coming in sixth.
"I was motivated and wanted to stay in the zone," Penaloza said. "This is one of my favorite courses to run, the pace was good, and I'm proud of myself."
Brea Olinda placed four scoring runners in the top 50 and finished third in Division 3.
"We're a pretty young team and I am proud of all the work the guys put in," Wildcats coach Jeremy Mattern said. "They rallied and believed that they could come here and do something special, which they did."
Freshman Austin Tamagno led the Wildcats with a sixth-place finish in 15:34.
"Our team had high goals for this state meet and I'm proud of the team," Tamagno said. "We wanted to stay together, and in the final mile, we wanted to take off and pass as many people as we could."
Buena Park senior Gilbert Solorza (15:48) had the second best time of all runners in the division and finished 16th.
In its first team appearance at the state meet, Crean Lutheran (136) finished second in Division 4 behind Fillmore (121).
"Our goal was to maintain what we have done throughout the month of November," Saints coach Tim Brink said. "It's a good feeling to know that what we as coaches have tried to do has begun to pay off and all the credit goes to the athletes."
Sophomore Sean Pino was among the leaders throughout the race and led the Saints' effort with a fourth-place effort in a time of 15:43.
"Our coaches told us that we if we gave it everything we had, we could make something happen," Pino said. "We all took that to heart today and came out with a lot of confidence and intensity. It felt good to be on the podium last week at CIF-SS finals and we knew we could do it here."
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