Newport Harbor's Paige Tennison tore ahead of the pack to lead in the Division 2 Girls CIF-SS finals in cross country Saturday. Tennison's final time was 16:13.

Newport Harbor's Tennison cruises to victory at CIF Finals


WALNUT- The disappointment of not being able to better her lifetime best on the regular Mt. SAC course was a temporary one for Newport Harbor senior Paige Tennison, who quickly took solace in the fact that she took home a satisfying victory on the Southern Section’s biggest stage.

Tennison seized control early and coasted to the CIF-SS Division 2 individual title at the CIF-SS Divisional Finals Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.

This is such an iconic course and I wanted to beat my time from last year, but winning on the rain course was fine with me,” Tennison said. “Winning this title is such an honor because the Southern Section is probably the toughest in California, and Division 2 is one of the toughest divisions in the section.”

Because of late night and early morning rain, CIF officials decided early Saturday morning to run the alternate rain course, which eliminated the infamous hills that make the regular Mt. Sac course one of the toughest in the nation.

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Tennison, who was third in last year’s finals, battled near the front early in the race, but broke away from the pack near the midway point and was not challenged the rest of the way. She crossed the finish line in a time of 16:13, the best among all county runners and the second fastest behind Simi Valley junior Sarah Baxter (15:53).

“I was completely zoned in and it felt like I was running alone the whole time,” Tennison said. “Everyone likes to go out really fast, but I stayed pretty steady throughout.” 

Tesoro (142 points) finished second in the team competition behind Division 2 champion Saugus (96).

“We remained connected and strong as a team,” Titans coach Patricia Fasola said. “The girls have been gelling over the last three weeks and executed really well today.”

The Titans had three runners place in the top 25, led by freshman Amanda Gehrich’s seventh place finish in a time of 16:41.

“I knew that everyone was going to go out really fast and I focused on how I would pace myself throughout the first mile,” Gehrich said.

Also advancing to the Division 2 state finals was Canyon (187), who was seventh.

Despite being battered and bruised for most of the season, JSerra completed the first half of its’ three-peat quest, winning its’ third straight CIF-SS Division 4 title. Sophomores Brooke Kunzelman (17:21) and Ashley Geisler (17:38), along with senior Colby Lindholm (17:48) all finished in the top 13 to help the Lions defeat second place Mayfield 95-106.  

“We really had to change our tactics because we’re more of a hill team and not a pure speed team,” Lions coach Marty Dugard said. “We wanted to put three as close to the top 10 as possible and have our four, five , and sixth runner ahead of everyone’s fifth runner.

"They are a tough group of girls that come together so well at this time of the year.”

Crean Lutheran finished seventh in the race to grab the final automatic qualifying spot and will be making its’ first ever state meet appearance. Sophomore Lauren Maurer (17:07) led the Saints with a second place individual finish.

“I was excited that I was able to pull out a really good race,” Maurer said. 

For the first time in school history, a Capistrano Valley girls’ team will toe the starting line at the state meet. The Cougars (134) had three girls place in the top 30 and finished third in the Division 1 finals behind Great Oak (44) and Simi Valley (69).

“I told the girls before the race that they have had a great season and are in shape to make it to the state meet,” Cougars coach Ken Sayles said. “The most exciting part for me is that this is a terrific group of young ladies that run with a nice balance of competitive instinct amongst a fun atmosphere.”

San Clemente, which won the Division 1 title last year en route to winning the Division 1 state title, was fourth with 155 points.

Marina (199 points) was sixth and also advanced to the state meet. The Vikings were led by senior Kylie Nishisaka (16:30) was sixth.

“I was looking forward to real course because I knew what I had to do, so running the rain course changed things for me,” Nishisaka said. “I did what I had to do to advance and also wanted to focus on the team because I knew that every point would count.”

Edison senior Haley Seward (16:36) also qualified for the state meet by placing ninth.
Northwood junior Bethan Knights finished second in Division 3 with a time of 16:26, the second best among all county runners behind Tennison.

“I knew there was a possibility that we could be running the rain course, so I focused on running both all week,” Knights said. “During the race, I focused my attention on pushing myself in the last 800 meters more that I have been.”

With Knights leading the way, the Timberwolves (94) had four runners score in the top 30 and placed second behind Bonita (58).

“We set our goal on July 23rd to be on the podium at the CIF-SS Finals and at the state meet,” Timberwolves coach Charles Gates said. “Race after race, we have done better and better. We have a nice front runner in Bethan and the other girls have gotten closer to her and believe they can do keep doing that.”

Senior Alana Jones (17:12) was seventh, leading Laguna Hills (138) to a fourth place finish. Santa Margarita (203) was fifth and will also compete in the Division 3 state final.

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