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Cabrillo Cross Country Jordan Lakewood Long Beach Poly Millikan St. Anthony Wilson

Long Beach Girls’ Cross Country Preview

This week, all of The562’s coverage is sponsored by Long Beach Gives. Visit LongBeachGives.org to find your cause and support local nonprofits! Donations will be accepted through Sept. 21.

The562’s cross country and track & field coverage is sponsored by an anonymous donation, in appreciation of Coach Ron Allice.

Last season, Long Beach Poly freshman Avery Peck took Moore League girls’ cross country by storm, sweeping all the league’s races while leading the Jackrabbits to their second straight league title. Peck ended her season as the fastest ninth grader in the Division 1 race at the CIF State meet, where she hopes to return along with the rest of her teammates.

In 2023, Peck will be joined by a solid group of returners as the Jackrabbits look to make it three titles in a row this fall. New head coach Mandy Wainfan has taken the reins of the program after serving as an assistant coach since 2020, and the Poly alum has confidence in the returning squad.

At last year’s league finals, Poly swept the top four places and had six of the top eight finishers. Half of those six runners have returned, led by Peck with her time of 18:24.15 as she bested the field by nearly 50 seconds.

Peck had her freshman year cut short due to injury, which prevented her from logging more miles during track season, but Wainfan says she’s back healthy and looking stronger than ever.

“We took significant time off to let her body heal completely, then built her up pretty slowly through the summer,” said Wainfan of Peck’s recovery. “That’s really hard for a freshman and especially a freshman who started off fast, but she’s gotten in a really, really good mindset about staying healthy and doing what she can while still working hard … I’ve been really impressed with how a sophomore is handling that. She’s looking really, really strong and she’s totally back to form.”

Joining Peck in the Poly lineup will be the Hernandez Lujan sisters. Evelyn is the senior who finished Top 4 in every league race a season ago, while junior Alexa is entering her third varsity season for the Jackrabbits.

Juniors Brynn Jolly and Emily Chun are two returning All-Moore League finishers for Poly, and freshman Estefany Garcia Hernandez has made a statement early in her high school career as a potential scorer for the Jackrabbits. Senior Isabella Villa-Quintero is back with the cross country team after a hiatus and is steadily dropping times going into the season. 

Wainfan said nearly every varsity runner set a new PR at the recent Cool Breeze Invitational, raising expectations for the relatively young squad. With Poly’s top-end talent and solid depth, it has the Jackrabbits aiming for a second consecutive trip to the CIF State meet this season.

“They’ve been talking about state and I’m fully with them on that,” said Wainfan. “They have a good chance to qualify with the way our training is going. We’re kind of doing strength first and then speed later, and already the strength shows in early season. So they’ve been talking about state qualifying and looking at the spread I think that’s totally possible for them this year.”

The rest of the league will be vying to knock off the Jackrabbits, and Millikan has had the most recent success under head coach Angela Ibarra. The Rams have a strong youngster of their own in sophomore Nadia Mejia, who finished sixth at league finals as a freshman.

At the recent Great Cow Run, Mejia took second in the varsity race, posting a time of 17:36.90 on the three-mile course.

Joining her in the lineup will be returning All-Moore League senior Maribel Perez, junior Yamile Rodriguez, sophomore Kristy Zobler, junior Emma Buth, and senior Nina Mungcal. Sophomore Madison Caceres will also be looking to crack the varsity lineup as an improving runner for the Rams. Freshman Emily Gonzalez could also be a factor based on her early results. She finished seventh among freshmen girls at the Great Cow Run with a sub-20 finish.

“One of the challenges we are facing is having the experience at this competitive/varsity level,” said Ibarra of her team this year. “Other than our top 3, the rest of the girls in our top 7 are relatively new to competing at this intense level.”

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Wilson has a veteran group of runners, led by a trio of Bruins who’ve spent their entire careers on varsity. Chief among them is Natalie Maahs, who was runner-up at league finals as a sophomore and was the fifth-place finisher a season ago. She has a Top 10 all-time mark in the three-mile at Wilson with an 18:23, and hopes to go sub-18 this year.

The Bruins also have two other All-Moore League seniors back in the fold as Natalie Seymour and Sofia Alvarado return for year four. Seymour was the Moore League individual champion as a freshman and Alvarado is coming off a Top 10 finish at last year’s league finals.

Bruins head coach CJ Brewer said this year’s group is especially tight-knit and hopes that their bond will help lead to success out on the course. Once again this year, Bruce Perret will be coaching the girls' team with Brewer overseeing the entire Wilson program.

Lakewood should be led by standout senior Maia Lopez, who took ninth place at league finals as a sophomore in 2022. Lopez ran a 19:37 at the Great Cow Run earlier this month to win the girls’ junior varsity race, finishing ahead of senior teammate Caleeya Jackson. The Lancers should also get contributions from junior Nikie Costa, who is also battling for that top spot.

“The team is loaded with a ton of talent to shake things up this year,” said Lancers head coach Daniel Sorenson, who has enjoyed watching his top 3 runners compete this offseason. “They have had an amazing summer contending for the top spot. As a coach it is a great problem to have and they’re making each other faster. I'm really excited to see what our program will do this season in such a tough league.”

Senior Brooklyn Marquez Mota, junior Alexandra Morales and sophomore Elysia Larios are other Lancers to look out for in 2023.

The Jordan girls will be led by junior Malaya Hardiman, who was a standout quarter-miler last track season. Junior Mia Gomez was the top finisher at league finals last season for J-Town and also returns to the Panthers’ lineup.

Over at Cabrillo, new head coach Sandy Castillo is hoping to quickly grow the program. She’ll rely on Ashley Huerta to carry the mantle, and Castillo said that Huerta has been working hard all summer to improve her times from last season.

In the Camino Real League, St. Anthony is looking to build off their appearance in the CIF-SS meet a season ago. Head coach Alejandro Salinas is back for his second season at the helm and likes this year’s group.

The Saints will be led by All-League runner Gabrielle Born, plus fellow juniors Brianna Montano and Alexandria Valdes, and senior captain Olivia Alvarez-Knapp. Salinas is looking for them to remain competitive during league competition and make a return trip to Mt. SAC in November.

The first Moore League cluster meet of the season will be held on Tuesday, September 26 at El Dorado Park.

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Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.