Saugus’ AJ Yarnall is the heavy favorite here.
The University of Washington signee had a banner year in 2012, starting with a 9:14.14 3,200-meter clocking that ranks #12 in Santa Clarita Valley high school history in March and ending with a 41st-place finish at the Nike Cross Nationals in December. Between those two spectacular performances, Yarnall set a new championship record (9:17.08) on his way to winning his first Foothill League title over 3,200 meters, clocked the fifth fastest mark at Mt. SAC in SCV history (14:55) and finished second at the California State Cross Country Championships (15:10) at Woodward Park in Fresno. Altogether, the senior had one of the most successful years by a runner in Foothill League history.
Although the Foothill League is filled with talent, only two are capable of taking down the defending champion in this eight-lap event. This year’s Foothill League leader, Zach Wims of Canyon, finished just .72 of a second behind Yarnall at last year’s league finals, but was third in the greatest 3,200-meter race in SCV history. It’ll be interesting to see how Wims reacts this spring, as none of his performances since last May’s finals have been on par with that 9:17.80 personal best performance. The Cowboy’s best race last fall was arguably run at the Foothill League Cross Country opener, which he won over Golden Valley’s Nolan Del Valle.
If anyone is going to pull off an upset at this year’s finals, it’ll be Yarnall’s teammate, Rodrigo Ornelas. The senior was one of five to run the 1600-3200 double at last year’s finals, finishing fifth in four-lap event and 10th over the eight-lap distance. Ornelas has improved tremendously since then though – winning the Foothill League cross country championship over Yarnall and finishing 14th at the state championships – which is why he’s the dark-horse to win the 3,200-meter finals this spring.
Golden Valley’s Nolan Del Valle, who’s been third at the last two Foothill League Cross Country Championships and top 15 at the last two state cross country finals, is another one who could be a contender, however, we have yet to see him translate his cross country success to the oval. Del Valle has been one of the most consistent runners in Foothill League history, finishing top eight in all four Foothill League cross country events of his career, and has a solid personal best of 9:35.73 in this event, so the Grizzly is no stranger to success. Still, though, his personal best is 21 seconds slower than Yarnall and 18 seconds behind Wims, plus he bombed at last May’s finals, fading to eighth in 9:40.59.
One must wonder, can Del Valle take 20-plus seconds off his personal best and end his prep career with an individual Foothill League championship?
Finishing .48 of a second ahead of Del Valle at last year’s finals, another Grizzly could make the podium if one of the four names above falters at the finals. Brendan Tinoco, older brother of super freshman Bianca Tinoco, was seventh in last year’s loaded finals. His 9:38.89 3,200-meter personal best, set at last year’s APU Distance Meet of Champions, was a huge surprise, however, he’s been solid ever since, finishing sixth at the Foothill League Cross Country Finals last November.
Two other story-lines that should develop this spring are West Ranch’s Tucker Welker and the incredible sophomore class in this event.
Welker had an unbelievable first cross country season, clocking the second all-time freshman marks in SCV history at Mt. SAC (16:03) and Woodward Park (16:09). He also finished 11th at the Foothill League Cross Country Championships last November, one of the highest finishes by a freshman in Foothill League history. Already this spring, the Wildcat has clocked 9:57.10 over 3,200 meters, which is why the high school freshman record has to be mentioned. Hart’s Sam Peckham hold the record in 9:36.10, set in 2009. Welker’s performance in February ranks #3 on SCV’s all-time freshman list behind Peckham and Hart’s Ruben Rubira’s 9:53.74.