So Pas Varsity Cross Country Season Ends on High Note

The South Pasadena High School boys varsity cross country team’s season ended at the CIF state finals when the team placed 10th overall. Photo by Tony Chen

The South Pasadena varsity boys cross country team raced at the CIF State Championships in Fresno recently for the first time in nearly three decades.

“We further raised the bar by placing top ten in our division,” Head Coach Joe Soto said in an email to the Review. “We are proud of all of the work these runners have put in to achieve this milestone, and look forward to seeing how far our returning runners will be able to push in years to come.” The varsity squad had not been to the state finals since 1989, Soto said. At the state level, the squad competed against 24 other schools.

Soto said the runners on the team were seniors Kai Dettman, Francesco Fortunelli, Alekzander Grijalva, Nicolo Porcu, and Micheal Xiong. Junior Sam Clark and Sophomore Benicio Perez completed the racing team of seven. Alternates Jonathan Apodaca, Brady Nakamura, Nick Owens, Andrew Parkinson, and Alex Parra all continued to train and prepare to race in case of injuries or emergencies. Parkinson and Nakamura ran in the qualifying races in the weeks leading up to the State Championships. The boys’ team qualified for state with an overall 4th place finish at the Southern Section CIF Prelims, which determined who moved up to the state meet. 

While the boys placed 10th overall in their division, the girls concluded their season with a 9th place overall finish.

Even though the girls are not going on to CIF State they did an amazing job today. I always say in cross country, ‘you race by yourself, but you don’t win by yourself.’ I’m very confident next year that we will be moving on to state. The level that these girls performed at was the best all season. They are truly developing into a championship team.”

Although the season is now over for both squads, Soto believed his motto of leadership along with a change in divisions helped them excel past previous performances.

“I think going into the season we looked a lot stronger,” Soto said during an earlier conversation. “We looked really strong. And now we looked stronger than we would have because something’s happening this year that hasn’t happened since I think maybe the 80s. Which is actually we are competing in Division 4 as opposed to Division 3, which makes us much more competitive.”

Divisions are based on school size and since South Pasadena High School’s size decreased, it dropped the cross country team down a notch to Division 4, which is considered not as competitive as Div. 3, according to Soto.

“In Division 3 we fought so hard,” Soto said. “We were definitely a team that other teams looked out for. In CIF, we were an inch away from going on to state and that has always been our goal. Now that we are in Division 4 that’s more attainable.”

Looking back over the season, Soto is grateful that his teams did well, but he believes his runners also discovered the joy of working together as a family. Soto calls it “team bonding,” something, he says, is as important as winning.

As an example, he said that he doesn’t cut people from the team because of performance, he only cuts people from the team based on effort. He stressed that being a member of the cross-country team is being a member of the family. It might be a second family, Soto says, but it’s still a family; a strong bond that people can come back to. Soto is an alumnus of the cross-country team. His coach was on the team. His two sons are alumni. The list can be increased ad infinitum, he said.

“When we talk about family, cross-country wise, it’s massive,” he said. “One of the things I personally instituted was the leadership creed. So that’s something I take great pride in and because I initiated that, and developed that, it’s very important to me.”

Members of the Leadership Creed wear belts that signify their acceptance into the fraternal family of cross-country.

“This is as important as winning,” Soto said. “Well, winning also is important and I think the boys and girls are doing better than ever before.”

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