It’s a similar lineup, but it’s missing a couple of key names off a state-finishing fifth place from last fall’s California boys’ cross-country championships.
Redlands East Valley, though lacking its 1-2 runners, Matt Casillas and Cole Cooper, might even be in better position to claim a state championship, if there’s ever a season in which to compete.
By this date last year, REV’s runners were on a pathway through the CIF-Southern Section trails — preliminaries and finals — before taking State Route 99 to Fresno for the state championships.
Fifth place in Fresno?
“Our No. 5 guy was sick,” said seventh-year coach Matt Sartori, “the day before the state meet. We could’ve been anywhere from second place to fifth place.”
Missing Casillas and Cooper — a pair of dynamite runners off the front end of last year’s Wildcats’ lineup — might be considered a staggering loss. Except for this: There are a trio of returning runners, Matt Hornung, Simon Opsahl and Liam Mapes, who could trigger some nice outcomes.
“We did lose our top two kids,” Sartori admitted, “but they were all close together. It’s what made our team strong.” By the way, that Casilla-Cooper 1-2 spotlight isn’t totally accurate.
By last year’s state finals, Opsahl and Hornung wound up 2-3 among REV’s finishers. REV’s four runners — 23, 26, 39 and 41 in the finish — were about a dozen seconds apart.
Sartori diagrammed just why he believes REV’s in the running for such distinction this season.
For openers, REV has dropped down one division — from Div. 2 to Div. 3 — which eliminates the likes of Thousand Oaks, Dana Hills and Newbury Park from a star-packed combination of teams that finished ahead of last year’s Wildcats’ lineup at state.
REV’s down about 100 students from its enrollment numbers is one explanation.
“We were right on the border between Division 2 and Division 3,” said Sartori. “We’re competing against larger schools.”
Dropping down a division definitely lessens the competition.
Yet to come are any pre-season polls that showcase REV’s status.
There was a virtual (times submitted by the coaches) Woodbridge Invitational meet that left REV in second place, trailing only Concord de la Salle — an eight-point difference scoring. REV’s top three finished in the top 10.
Sartori had his troops in a team trial a few weeks back. That was a flat course from Redlands Municipal Airport along roads that went along the River Road.
Those clockings ranged from 14:30 to 15:09 over a 5K.
“That’s top 10 in the state,” said Sartori, who knows full well that his troops must carry that into a race to lock down those accolades?
Beyond that Hornung-Opsahl-Mapes trio, there’s returning runners Alex Miller, Corey Ford and Anthony Ramos. Throw in freshman Emmanuel Wallace to make it a nice squad of seven runners — the numbers necessary to fill out a cross country lineup.
“It’s a solid top seven,” said Sartori. “Three guys are up for No. 5.”
Mathematically, it means that whichever runner that turns up as REV’s fifth runner, then those other two runners fit right into a solid lineup.
Last year at state, Hornung posted a 15:47 and Opsahl — whose brother Elias was a state 1500-meter champion — ran even better, 15:40.
That run was posted over 5,000 meters, a little farther than a regular season 3-mile duel. Sartori computes it out this way: “Everyone usually improves 30 seconds each year. That puts them right at 15:10.” A 15:10 run by Hornung and Opsahl puts them into top 10 for Division 2. For Division 3, however, it places them in solid contention to battle for individual supremacy.
Sartori doesn’t mask his hopes.
“Sometimes, their goals are bigger than my goals,” he said.
In Sartori’s quiet approach, he’s got some big hopes for a 2021 Wildcats’ outcome.
As for team results, consider that Campolindo High and Mario Carrillo High — both from Northern California — ran 1-2 at state last season.
Southern Section regulars like Agoura, Simi Valley Royal, St. John Bosco, Brea-Olinda and Palos Verdes are well within striking range of REV’s runners.
“We weren’t able to run track,” said Sartori, referring to the COVID-19 shutdown of all 2019 spring sports. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to start (competing) in January.” Sartori’s already tracking his runners’ efforts by Strava, the GPS-styled electronic surveillance system.
Citrus Valley’s young team, plus Yucaipa — which has Javier Madrid returning as coach — are lying in wait for the Wildcats. Throw in newcomer Beaumont’s multiple-runner program, plus Redlands and Cajon into a solid Citrus Belt League nucleus.
Sartori, who works in the San Bernardino Unified school system, doesn’t duck from the fact that his county is in purple (widespread) stage. His sport might be best suited for working out since there’s no real equipment to share.
“If we don’t have state,” he said, “at least the kids are out running. That’s more than a lot of sports gets to do.”