ORANGE — On a challenging three-mile Irvine Regional Park course with two tough hills at the Orange County Cross Country Championships, it wasn't so much the team results among local runners as much as the individual battles.
Newport Harbor High junior Paige Tennison won the battle against herself. Last year, she finished the course in 18 minutes, 45 seconds.
This year, she showed a remarkable improvement, finishing in 16:59 to win the girls' sweepstakes title Saturday.
Tennison also came back strong after finishing fifth at the Clovis Invitational near Fresno last weekend, where she fell down twice, got bloodied and was trampled by a few runners.
At the O.C. Championships, she was strong throughout.
"The first hill was the toughest," Tennison said. "I didn't know when it was going to end. I'm excited I won."
Corona del Mar senior Ashlee Powers was also in the girls' sweepstakes race. She finished 15th (18:03). CdM was 10th with 265 points, Newport Harbor was 11th (283). Trabuco Hills won the team title (105). Kristen Rivera (27th, 18:17) also earned a medal.
No elite individual runner-versus-runner matchup was as close as CdM senior Blake Myers, who finished third (15 minutes, 20 seconds) in a Division II race, versus Newport Harbor senior Jake Barber, who finished fourth (15:22).
Myers was able to master the first 150 meters of grass that slowed some runners down, a dirt hill well before the first mile and an asphalt hill toward the second mile.
The top 40 runners in every race earned medals, with the top 50 in sweepstakes races also earning medals. The fastest seven runners in each race were named All-Orange County.
"That was a good race for me," Myers said. "That was about 10 to 15 seconds of a [personal record] from last year on this course. I started with the top four guys. I was up the hill with them, down with them. I was at the bottom of the second hill, when they started to creep away from me, I was at the top of the hill, I started my kick and I caught one of them. I thought it was a pretty good race."
Barber felt he ran at or near his best as well.
"I think I ran a good race," Barber said. "The competition's tough. I've usually been competitive. It was a strong field. I was looking to fight those guys off at the last mile."
With two key Sea Kings boys' runners out with injuries — No. 2 runner Tanner Love was out with knee problems and No. 3 man Ryan Rodriguez out with a broken arm — Corona del Mar was hurt in the team standings.
CdM finished ninth with 241 points. Villa Park won the Division II team title. Newport Harbor was 18th and Estancia was 21st.
"We kind of trained through some of this," Corona del Mar Coach Bill Sumner said. "Blake's healthy, so we wanted the rest of our guys to follow him … if we want tradition, we have to earn it."
Another interesting individual matchup came with one runner — Costa Mesa ace runner Robert Blackwell, who finished fourth (15:58) — versus the Sage Hill trio of Jack Percival (20th, 16:35), Brennan Hicks (21st, 16:38) and Chris Andras (22nd, 16:40). The three Lightning runners showcased pack running at its finest, and it worked as Sage Hill finished with the best team result at fifth (164 points).
"I could have finished first," Blackwell said. "I made some errors in judgment. I should have gone faster on the last hill. I overestimated the end stretch. I thought it would be longer, so I thought I'd save myself for it. It's a good experiment for Mt. SAC."
Mt. San Antonio College is where the Mt. SAC Invitational will be held this upcoming weekend, as well as the CIF Southern Section Divisional Preliminary Meet (Nov. 12) and the CIF Southern Section Finals (Nov. 19) will be held. The lowest-scoring seven teams there will qualify for Nov. 26 at the CIF State Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
"We've got a good group of four," Sage Hill Coach Nate Miller said. "We're excited. Our goal is to make it in the top seven (at CIF). I think we have an excellent chance of making it to state. Next week is a good indicator of where we are, because everyone in Division V is together."
In another girls' race, Sage Hill finished seventh (255 points). Estancia (11th, 312) and Costa Mesa (13th, 361) also competed.
Mariah Chapin (16th, 19:58) of Estancia, Sophia White of Sage Hill (28th, 20:25) were among the fastest runners.