Blankenbaker top individual finisher
By Joe Naiman
A number of factors made it unlikely that Ramona High School’s boys cross country team would win the Palomar League meet Nov. 12 at Kit Carson Park, but the Bulldogs took first place in the league meet as well as the first individual finish, courtesy of senior Dylan Blankenbaker.
“All things considered, I thought it was a very good day in terms of preparing for next week,” said Coach Steve Albanese, referring to the CIF San Diego Section meet which is now this Saturday. “I think that the guys got that race feel back.”
Albanese has focused his season-long training on the CIF San Diego Section and state meets and had used the league dual meets as workouts. The Bulldogs finished the league dual meet season with a 1-4 record, and even at the league meet Albanese focused more on training than on team position.
“League finals is a warm-up for CIF, and I considered it a time trial and had the guys run a 7/8 effort working on pacing,” Albanese said. “I didn’t want them to invest a whole lot emotionally into the race.”
Times can be dependent on terrain, which was muddy in some parts at Kit Carson Park. The rain forced the meet organizers to switch to a safer course.
“Because of the rain they had to take out two hills, and it was a pretty flat course,” Albanese said.
That theoretically works to the disadvantage of a team that excels on passing runners on hills.
“We did really well on hilly courses,” Albanese said.
The terrain conditions also led to Ramona senior Donny McKay stepping in a hole prior to the race and twisting an ankle. McKay was able to run the race, although the injury likely cost him all-league status.
“He just slowed down,” Albanese said. “He definitely could have been all-league if he just didn’t get hurt.”
Bulldog junior Forrest Riley fell on the final turn and, although two runners passed him after that, Riley still earned first-team Palomar League honors as the 10th finisher. The top 10 finishers earn berths on the all-league first team while the next 10 finishers attain second-team status.
A cross country team score adds the positions of a school’s first five finishers. The sixth and seventh runners are not scored but can add to other teams’ scores. Each school was allowed 12 runners at the league meet.
Albanese believed that first place was possible even with the 7/8 pace.
“If they hit that, they probably would come out with a victory,” he said.
Other than McKay, Ramona’s runners, including Riley, achieved that 7/8 pace. The Bulldogs had a team score of 64 points, Mount Carmel took second place with 68 points, and Torrey Pines was third with 73 points.
McKay, who was Ramona’s fifth finisher, placed 23rd, and seventh Ramona finisher Josh Spieker was 30th. Mount Carmel’s fifth runner was 21st, seven seconds ahead of McKay, and the Sundevils joined the Bulldogs with four all-league runners, although Mount Carmel’s seventh runner finished 38th. Torrey Pines’ fifth runner placed 24th, four seconds behind McKay, while the seventh Falcon finisher placed 39th.
“I would guess every one of my guys could have gone about 20 seconds faster,” Albanese said. “Dylan probably could have come close to a minute faster.”
Blankenbaker tends to run conservatively during the early part of the race and rely on a strong finish.
“At two miles he was with the lead pack,” Albanese said.
The course was 3.1 miles, or 5,000 kilometers. Blankenbaker was told at the two-mile point to wait until the end to take the lead. He had a five-second lead three miles into the race and was instructed to relax.
Blankenbaker’s winning time was 16:02. Mount Carmel’s Eric Sindel placed second at 16:07 and Torrey Pines’ Arjun Kumar had the third-place time of 16:08.
Riley joined Blankenbaker on the Palomar League first team after he maintained 10th place and finished the race in 16:26. Second-team honors went to senior Alec Richardson, whose time of 16:41 placed 12th, and junior Cory Thomas, who took 16:54 and finished 18th.
McKay had been running with Thomas for the first two miles before the injury began to take its toll. McKay finished the race in 17:15.
Ramona’s sixth finisher was junior Tristan Stidham, whose time of 17:22 was worth 26th place among the race’s 68 runners. Spieker had a time of 17:30.
Ramona’s eighth finisher was senior Graham Gantzer, who is recovering from an injury. Gantzer’s time of 18:03 placed 48th.
Freshman Isaiah Spieker ran junior varsity races during the dual meet portion of the season, and his time of 18:18 placed 54th. Senior Ian Pedlow was 55th at 18:20, freshman Collin Uekert took 18:28 and finished 59th, and sophomore Anthony Jauregui’s time of 18:41 made him the 63rd finisher.