A challenging start to the 2012 season could set up the Laguna Beach High boys' cross-country team for big things down the road.
Coach Scott Wittkop's squad has seven runners returning from last year's team that finished second at the Hawaiian Invitational, third at the Dana Hills Invitational, second in the Orange Coast League standings and finished 14th out of 16 teams at the CIF Southern Section Division IV final at Mt. San Antonio College. One of the top runners from last year's team, Jeff White, graduated in June.
Among the returnees is junior Veda Rebollar, who is the reigning boys' 3,200 meters champion in the Orange Coast League, and sophomore Grant Barton, who Wittkop said was "one of the top" freshmen runners last year in CIF Division IV.
"Our preseason is set up to get us ready for the important meets at the end of the year," Wittkop said. "Woodbridge, Mt. SAC, Clovis and the Stanford Invite will have us going up against the best teams in state.
League: Orange Coast
CIF Division: IV
Head coach: Scott Wittkop (third year)
Coaching staff: Mark Harris; Aman R Bhatia
2011 league finish: Second place
2011 CIF results: Placed 14th in Division IV final.
Returning runners: Veda Rebollar (Jr.); Grant Barton (Soph.); Casey Kowpowski (Jr.); Jack Crawford (Sr.); Mitch Kimball (Sr.); Stone Riff (Sr.); Kevin Tovar (Sr.).
Newcomers: Drake Butler (Fr.); Cameron Zuziak (Soph.); Mason Pitz (Fr.); Stirling Marshall (Fr.); James Marshall (Fr.).
Coach's outlook: "We have a great group of athletes this year and they are really bonding as a team," Wittkop said. "This team has the ability to compete at the highest level and we believe that this group will be at the state finals in November."
Boys' and Girls' Cross-Country Schedule
Sept. 8: Don Bosco Invite (boys' varsity)
Sept. 8: Laguna Hills Invitational (girls' varsity)
Sept. 15: Woodbridge Classic (JV, frosh/soph)