November 19, 2011.
Remember the date.
The only time the Saugus High girls cross country team has lost a race over the last seven years is at last November’s CIF Southern Section Division 2 Championships, where Simi Valley – lead by US#1 Sarah Baxter – beat the then-five-time defending section champions by nine points.
A week later, the Lady Centurions returned the favor in winning a record sixth consecutive state championship in a stunning come-from-behind performance at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Fast forward a year later. The Saugus girls – ranked No. 1 in the state and 17th in the country, according to Mark Bloom’s most recent rankings – have once again reloaded despite losing six of their top nine runners from last year, including all-state honorees Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui, and look ready for another title run at Mt. San Antonio College on Saturday.
“I use last year’s devastating (CIF) loss as a huge motivation for this Saturday,” said Heidi Hoslet, the 14th fastest division two cross country runner in California. “I really want to make up for that and prove all those people wrong who did not believe in us.”
The road leading up to this weekend’s CIF Southern Section Division 2 Championships was no walk in the park for the six-time defending state champions, especially for Hoslet. Several injuries left the program wondering whether or not the standout would be ready in time for another post-season appearance. Yet against all odds, the senior prevailed.
“This past cross country season was very difficult for me,” Hoslet said. “I had a terrible injury keep me out for four months at the beginning of the season. It was really hard coming back and trying to catch up to the other girls, but somehow I have managed to do it. I am so thankful that I could be on such a great team because I couldn’t have done this without these amazing girls!”
Senior Olivia Altieri has had her own share of struggles in her first season on the varsity team.
“This season has definitely been a rollercoaster,” said Altieri. “Personally, being a vegetarian for seven years, my body wasn’t necessarily prepared for the level of intensity our training got to as the season went on. It was a setback for me, but I decided to start eating meat for the rest of the season, and I’ve felt worlds better ever since.”
Despite having to deal with several injuries and other obstacles throughout the season, the Lady Centurions have been looking better and better each week. On Oct. 20th, the squad won their varsity race at the Mt. SAC Invitational by 18 points over Tesoro. Two weeks later, the girls easily won their seventh consecutive Foothill League championship. All five scorers finished in the top 10 and overall, their top seven fastest were among the top 13 performers of the meet.
Last weekend, Saugus won their heat at the CIF Southern Section Prelims with 29 points over Golden Valley, despite resting two of their top runners in Altieri and sophomore Darby LaPlant. Their team time of 92:14 was the fastest across all four division two heats. If you combined and scored all four divisions together, Saugus would have won by 17 points over Tesoro. Assuming Altieri and LaPlant compete this weekend and the team continues to improve, Saugus’ chances in winning their sixth Southern Section championship in seven years looks very, very good.
As for Foothill League champion Samantha Ortega, the sensational sophomore could become just the third in SCV history to win an individual cross country section championship following Hart’s Brooke Russell in 2003 and Saugus’ Kaylin Mahoney, who won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
“Our main goal is to win our race and take back the CIF title,” Ortega said. “As an individual, I am really looking for a PR, just by a couple seconds, or even a huge PR. Maybe even get close to a CIF title, just so we have a better shot at taking the team title back to Saugus.”
The Saugus girls team may have suffered several blows throughout this cross country season, but nothing has changed. The squad once again heads into this weekend’s CIF Southern Section Division 2 Championships as the heavy favorites, and just like every other record-breaking season, the Lady Centurions are determined to end another historic run with their seventh consecutive California-shaped trophy hoisted high above all other teams around the state.
“As a team, we’ve faced just about everything this season,” Altieri said. “Injuries, illness, you name it. But we’ve bounced back, and I have no doubt in my mind that we are fully capable of this.”