ATTENTION: Saugus High’s Samantha Ortega is back.
Following a fairy tale sophomore cross country season, Ortega will try to duplicate those accomplishments, this time on the oval.
Last fall’s successes were similar to a Cinderella story. Ortega, who won the 2012 Foothill League junior varsity title over 3,200 meters, spent several weeks injured over the summer before her sophomore cross country campaign. That didn’t stop her from becoming one of Santa Clarita’s all-time greats though, as she joined a short list of legends that include Canyon High’s Lauren Fleshman and Saugus’ Shannon Murakami, Kaylin Mahoney and Karis Frankian. Ortega didn’t finish worse than third in the 10 races she competed in in California. On Nov. 1st, she demolished Golden Valley’s Chelsey Totten with an incredible final 800 meters, winning by 11 seconds in the second fastest mark in course history on Central Park’s flat three-mile layout. Two weeks later, the standout crossed second at the CIF Southern Section Division 2 Finals. Only Newport Harbor High’s Paige Tennison beat her that day. Seven days after that, Ortega made history, crossing four seconds behind winner Maggie Bell of Granite Bay High to take runner-up honors. Her finishing time of 17 minutes, 33 seconds broke Mahoney’s SCV record at Woodward Park.
The Saugus runner ended her first season of cross country with a 61st-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals, despite falling twice, and a spectacular double at the Long Beach Distance Carnival on Dec. 8th. On that cold, foggy night, Ortega won the 1,600-meter run in 5:05.30 over former Centurion Nina Moore (5:09.20), her mark #23 in SCV history. Two hours later, she finished second behind sub-17-minute 5K’er and former Long Beach State/Glendale College runner Rosa Del Toro over eight laps, her time of 10:50.90 ranks 15th in valley history.
Her tremendous speed and endurance has now brought her into unfamiliar territory as just a sophomore. Don’t expect anyone from the Foothill League to challege her over 3,200 meters this spring. In fact, Ortega’s been so impressive over the last four months, three questions merit mention heading into the new track and field season and beyond:
1. Can the SCV record-holder at Woodward Park take down Kaylin Mahoney’s 10:25.40 3200m school record (5:07/5:17 splits) this spring?
2. Can the sophomore standout graduate high school in May 2015 as the first Saugus “runner” to win a state championship in track?
3. Can Saugus’ Samantha Ortega challenge the oldest female SCV record in the books: Lauren Fleshman’s 10:18.21 3,200m (5:04/5:14 splits)?
Expect three other Lady Centurions to challenge the 11-minute barrier over eight laps as well. Seniors Heidi Hoslet and Katie Huntington, who just signed to Marymount College and San Jose State University, and junior Abigail Frankian, who helped Saugus to a record seventh consecutive state cross country championship in November, could all go under 11 minutes by season’s end. Only 20 girls have broken the coveted 11-minute barrier in SCV history. Fifteen of those 20 were from Saugus. Frankian, who’s older sister is 2012 Foothill League champion and championship record-holder Karis, has a personal best of 11:08.76, set at last year’s APU Distance Meet of Champions, while Hoslet and Huntington both just set personal records at the distance carnival in Long Beach, clocking 11:06.80 and 11:16.60.
Expect this spring’s track campaign to be a warm-up for the Saugus girls, who will chase after their eighth straight California state cross country championship later this fall. In last year’s track preview, I went into depth about how the Lady Centurions should be considered at least co-favorites to win another state title in Nov. 2012. This year is no different. Saugus has a fantastic returning five coming back (Samantha Ortega, Abigail Frankian, Darby LaPlant, Ashley Heys and Sabrina Janes) and a great group of underclassmen to replace the four seniors graduating later this spring, so expect a hard-fought battle in November. But first, the 2013 track season.
The Saugus girls have swept the podium in this event four times over the last five years and have the depth to do it again. Seniors Nina Sassano and Olivia Altieri, sophomore Darby LaPlant and freshman Ashley Heys all have the talent to dip under 11:20, which could be enough to make the podium this year. Last year, Saugus’ Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui produced the first and third fastest marks in championship history, while the younger Frankian sister, Abigail, put together an incredible final 400 meters to pull into third over the last 200 meters, crossing in 11:13.70. Fourth-place was Canyon’s Valeria Soto, who ran 11:18.75.
Who has the potential to spoil the party for Saugus though?
Golden Valley High duo Chelsey Totten and Bianca Tinoco lead the list of contenders after memorable cross country seasons. Totten, who recently signed to Arizona State University, faltered at the end of the season, but that didn’t take away from what she did. Her 17:18 runner-up finish to Simi Valley’s Sarah Baxter at the Mt. SAC Invitational is #4 in SCV history, only trailing Saugus’ Kaylin Mahoney, Karis Frankian and Shannon Murakami, while she earned her third straight All-Foothill League award as well. Meanwhile, Bianca Tinoco ran the second fastest marks by a freshman in valley history at Mt. SAC (17:48) and Woodward Park (18:09) and also became the first female in school history to earn All-Southern Section and All-State first team honors, quite an accomplishment for the soccer player.
The only question revolving around the two is whether or not they’ll focus on the 3,200-meter event. Totten is the defending 1,600-meter league champion and the fastest returee over 800 meters, while Tinoco’s footspeed would likely get her closer to a Foothill League championship and farther into the postseason in the shorter distances as well. That being said, only two other non-Saugus runners – Valencia’s Maddie Dignadice and Soto are capable of finishing on the podium in my eyes.
Dignadice, who will run for Academy of Art in the fall, has finished fifth in the last two finals and has a personal best of 11:07.98, the third fastest time among Foothill Leaguers, however, the standout ran that way back in May 2011. Her junior and senior cross country seasons were also cut short by injuries, so her health and fitness status remain unknown at the moment. With Tottten and Tinoco most likely focusing on the shorter distances and Dignadice a big question mark, Soto looks like the one most capable of preventing Saugus from another podium sweep. The Cowboy finished seventh at the Foothill League Cross Country Championships last November. Still, four Saugus ladies have run faster than Soto’s personal best of 11:18.75, with a fifth just two seconds back. If Soto wants to become the first Canyon runner to make the podium since Lauren Walker won the league championship in 2004, she’ll have to run as close as possible to the 11-minute barrier, if not, under.