After 11 months of waiting for competitive high school sports to return, this might be the most highly-anticipated cross country season ever. The traditional fall sport has been bumped into the spring, but players and coaches alike are thrilled for the opportunity to compete again, albeit under very different circumstances.
Rather than the traditional cluster meets with every league team competing simultaneously, the 2020-21 cross country season will consist of dual meets with two schools going head-to-head.
Looking back at the 2019 boys’ cross country season, Long Beach Poly continued its extended run of dominance by winning its 13th consecutive Moore League title, punctuated by a third consecutive trip to the CIF State meet. In 2021, the Jackrabbits’ road to a 14th straight title appears to be lined with contenders, which could make for an exciting title chase in the abbreviated season.
The defending champions will have a lot to replace and a new head coach looking to keep the championship streak alive. Poly and Long Beach State alum Cameron Ford took over as head coach following the retirement of longtime coach Mike Fillipow, and he’s maintaining high expectations for the program, even with the top five runners graduating off of the 2019 squad.
“For us, it is to still go out and give our best and hit our full strength at the end of the season,” Ford said. “We want all cylinders to fire at the same time at the last meet of the year. League championships are what we aim for as a collective.”
Ford is excited that cross country will be in the spotlight for the next few weeks, paving the way for other sports to return to competition this spring.
“I’ve talked to family, friends, and coaches from different sports, and we all know the significance of this,” Ford explained. “We will get to be leaders and a model of a return to competition for many sports to follow. It’s all eyes on cross country for the next couple of weeks, and I hope more people see how great this sport and this team is.”
The Jackrabbits will look to rebuild behind a slew of underclassmen. Senior Kyle Johnson will be the veteran of the bunch, with a crop of juniors like Robert Guerrero, Nicholas Mejia, Brandon Perry, and Jaedon Rufo in the mix. Ford expects three sophomores to compete for a spot in the lineup: Luke Larson, Mason Lindsay, and Cameron Rhone.
The Bruins appear poised as Poly’s top challengers this year, and will look to snap their rivals’ championship streak. Head coach CJ Brewer lauds his team’s dedication to training during the shutdowns and is excited to get them back on the course.
“Running has helped our student-athletes keep their routines and mental stability,” Brewer said. “Cross country is the best part of their day after sitting in front of a computer alone at home for hours and hours. I expect some close racing this year. We are all excited for the positive vibes that competing in high school sports brings to our lives. After so much negative this year, a positive activity is just what these kids need.”
The Bruins joined Poly as qualifiers for the CIF-SS finals a season ago, and will look to build on that success this season. Junior Nico Colchico was part of that group and is the top returner for the Bruins. Colchico is a three-year varsity runner and holds the best time of any returner in the Moore League. He’ll be joined in Wilson’s top five by much-improved senior Jack Wade and Guillermo Aguirre. The Bruins will also rely on newcomers Gus Hollister and Diego Alvarado in the sophomore class.
The league can’t forget about Millikan, which will also be gunning for a league title this season. Scott Kirchhoff finished fifth at league finals last year and is the top returner from that race. Ramon Lopez and Sean Whipp finished 11th and 12th, respectively, at league finals and are both back for the Rams. Jason Parra and Sebastian DeBiase are expected to round out the lineup for Millikan head coach Pedro Ramirez.
“I am happy, relieved, and excited to have a season,” Ramirez said. “Our goal for us is always the same, to do the best we can and try to win the league title.”
The Lancers have just one of their top seven runners returning, but are excited to compete with a group of seniors—Fabian Barales, Justin Chavez, and Tyler McGlothlin—plus junior Sean Goltra, who have each made big strides during the offseason.
The Moore League season begins on Wednesday afternoon with Poly hosting Cabrillo and Millikan hosting Wilson for on-campus dual meets.