In his third year at the helm, San Marino High School cross-country coach Angus Leung is starting to notice something he had not seen with his program.
“This team is big,” said Leung. “We have nearly 60 runners this year compared last year’s 40.”
The increase in numbers gives the Titans a lot more than depth. Having more athletes only gives San Marino more potential this season, and the runners noticed that after their first race last weekend.
“A lot of them didn’t know what they were capable of until after Friday,” said Leung, whose teams competed in the Rosemead Invitational last week. “The course was a little longer than 3 miles. They now know what they’re capable of and they were more committed. I could see it. The season is still early, and it was a good start. They are not where I want them to be right now, but so far so good.”
The varsity girls’ squad has the most potential this season with Olivia Ruiz returning after finishing second in the Rio Hondo League finals last year. She is expected to be the league’s top runner and will lead a group of experienced athletes. Last year’s group placed third in league and reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 finals.
“We made it to the CIF finals as a team last year,” Leung said of his girls’ team. “This year, our top five runners are back. They’re all sophomores and juniors, which means we’ll have them for at least one more year. I’m hoping they finish higher in league and find that consistency going into CIF.”
Puja Balaji will be San Marino’s No. 2 runner, followed by Meg Hannan, Juliana Judge and Katie Wong. Leung said the girls have a solid bond on and off the course, which will only help them close the gap.
“We have really good athletes on the girls’ team,” Leung said. “Juliana did two events in track and Wong was MVP for the frosh swimming team. They just need to get used to mileage again. We are a work in progress, but we’re just trying to get back to where we were last year.”
The boys lost leadership and talent in Eric Lew and Xavier Beck to graduation, but returning runners such as Tom Moffat, Sean Chen, Jonathan Chen and Grant Holt are capable of filling the void.
“Tom has been a consistent varsity runner, and he’s been running a lot better physically and mentally this year,” Leung said. “He’s one guy I have high hopes for because he has worked so hard to develop as a runner, and he has the potential to run at the next level.
Another guy that is capable is Sean Chen. He’s the most competitive athlete on the team and very determined. He’s that guy that runs his best race when the team needs him to.”
Alex Powers will also be in the mix to run for the varsity team, which needs to work as a unit in order to compete for the Rio Hondo League crown.
“They just need to push each other and improve as a team and individually,” Leung said. “Cross-country is like any sport in that the easiest way to improve is to share the load with your teammates. We can’t be individuals. We have to compete as a team.”
The Titans turned in a solid performance at the Rosemead Invitational with Ruiz leading the way. The junior standout placed second her race with a time of a time of 19:02.4, and Balaji was 10th in the sophomore race with a time of 20:40.2. Judge posted a time of 22:47.8 in the junior race to place 65th, Wong was 74th with a time of 23:38.2 in the sophomore race and freshman Karen Lee was 32nd in her race with a time of 23:24.1.
Moffat led the senior boys with a time of 17:23.7, and Chen finished the junior race in 17:27.3 for 15th place. Joseph Weber wasn’t far behind to take 30th with a time of 18:02.5, and Powers was 55th in the senior race with a time of 18:13.7.
San Marino’s cross-country teams will compete in its first Rio Hondo League meet next Thursday, Sept. 21, at Lacy Park.