By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s cross country team finished third among Division II teams at the CIF state meet Nov. 26 at Fresno’s Woodward Park, while Ramona senior Dylan Blankenbaker was the second individual across the finish line.
Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita won the Division II championship with 86 points, Loyola High School of Los Angeles was second with 111 points, and Ramona had 144 points.
“All season long our goal was to be on the podium. Of course we were going for first place, but I’m really happy,” said Coach Steve Albanese.
La Costa Canyon, the only Division II school to finish ahead of Ramona at the CIF San Diego Section meet, was fourth with 146 points.
“Our guys laid it on the line and ran a gutsy last part of the race,” Albanese said. “That made all the difference.”
Last year, Ramona placed seventh in the state meet with 223 points.
“I think this might be the best finish Ramona’s ever had,” Albanese said of the third-place result. “It’s one of the best teams that Ramona’s ever had, and I’m really thrilled.”
Blankenbaker likely had the best individual showing ever posted by a Bulldog in a state meet. La Costa Canyon senior Darren Fahy won the 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) race with a time of 15:03 while Blankenbaker finished in 15:10.
Fahy was in front by himself for most of the race, but Blankenbaker was in the lead of the chase pack two miles into the competition.
“Dylan closed on him a little bit in the last mile, but Darren was just too far ahead for Dylan to be able to catch him,” Albanese said.
Aubrey Myjer of Mountain View finished third at 15:15.
Blankenbaker wasn’t disappointed at finishing second.
“It was kind of a long shot for me catching him,” Blankenbaker said. “Darren’s really good and I closed the gap of how much he beat me by last weekend by about half, so I’m happy with what I did.”
Fahy also won the section Division II race with a time of 15:23 while Blankenbaker was second in that race at 15:37.
At last year’s state meet Blankenbaker had a time of 15:28 to finish eighth among the 191 Division II runners. The state meet will not close out his high school career, as that night he was invited to run in the Nike Nationals, which will take place this Saturday in Portland, Ore.
“I’m super excited about that,” Blankenbaker said of his invitation to the Nike Nationals.
“Dylan was a great captain and a great leader and a very inspirational runner,” Albanese said. “He’s going to be really missed next year.”
Team scores are determined by adding the positions of a school’s first five finishers. Each school that qualified as a team was allowed to enter up to seven runners; a team’s sixth and seventh finishers aren’t scored but can add points to opposing teams. The race also included those who qualified as individuals.
Ramona junior Forrest Riley had a time of 15:54, which placed him 31st overall and 20th for purposes of team scoring.
“He was still sick on the day of the race,” Albanese said. “He’s very mentally tough when he races.”
In the 2010 state meet, Riley finished 43rd at 16:03.
In this year’s race, Riley was the 12th non-senior across the finish line.
“I’m happy with how he did, and I know he has a lot more in him,” Albanese said. “I think he has the potential to be what Dylan was for us.”
Last year Cory Thomas was on Ramona’s junior varsity. This year the junior had a time of 16:12 in the state race to place 48th overall, 34th for team score purposes, and 17th among non-seniors.
“Cory built up a lot of momentum going in at the end of the season and he was on fire going into the state meet and all that momentum led to his best race when we needed it most,” Albanese said. “It really set the stage for next year as well.”
Ramona senior Alec Richardson closed out his career with a 16:18 performance, which was worth 56th place and 40th for team scoring. Last year Richardson was 76th at 16:21.
“He’s had an incredible running career and hopes to continue it in college,” Albanese said.
Richardson plans to attend college on an ROTC scholarship rather than an athletic scholarship.
Tristan Stidham raced in two junior varsity races this year when the Bulldogs were only allowed to have seven runners in a varsity race. By the time of the CIF section meet, which allowed seven competitors for each school, Stidham was one of Ramona’s seven participants.
After finishing as Ramona’s sixth runner in both the Palomar League and section races, he was the fifth Bulldog across the finish line at the state meet. His time of 16:25 set a personal record by 55 seconds and gave him 65th place overall, 48th place for Ramona’s team score, and 24th place among non-seniors.
“He stepped up huge,” Albanese said of Stidham. “He’s taken leaps and bounds, taken great strides, in becoming a solid runner for our team and it’s been a surprise, a good surprise, for us.”
Stidham did not run in ninth grade and was on the junior varsity team for all of last year.
“He really fell in love with the sport and was willing to run nine miles every day,” Albanese said. “Now he’s a great varsity runner.”
Last year Donny McKay placed 154th with a time of 17:09. This year McKay’s time of 16:41 gave the senior 105th place overall and 79th place for team scoring purposes. Albanese blames himself for the lack of McKay’s significant improvement.
“We need to work on his stride and mechanics,” Albanese said. “He still stayed solid for us.”
The Bulldogs’ 2010 competitors at the state meet also included three seniors. This year junior Josh Spieker was an alternate at the CIF section meet, but at the state meet Albanese designated senior Graham Gantzer as the alternate and let Spieker run.
“I wanted him to have experience going into next year,” Albanese said. “That’s one of the reasons I put him in.”
Spieker responded with a time of 17:13, which placed him 156th among the race’s 183 runners. He was 126th for team score statistics.
The two schools that finished ahead of Ramona this year each had five seniors. Golden Valley is expected to return its second and fifth finishers while Loyola’s underclassmen finished fifth and seventh among their teammates. If the Bulldogs return all underclassmen, they will have four runners with state meet experience.
“Our program’s looking pretty good for next year,” Albanese said.
On Sept. 17 Ramona and La Costa Canyon competed at the Mt. Carmel/Movin’ Shoes Cross-Country Invitational at Morley Field in San Diego. That meet involved grade-level races, but had the overall positions of each school’s five fastest runners been added Ramona would have placed two points ahead of the Mavericks.
La Costa Canyon had a 15-point edge over the Bulldogs in the Oct. 22 Mt. SAC Invitational meet, and the Mavericks beat Ramona by 9 points in the CIF section meet.
“I really like the rivalry and the competition and really like their coach,” Albanese said.
Bill Vice is the Mavericks’ head cross country coach.
“I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s done,” Albanese said. “It’s an honor to be able to finish ahead of them.”
“It was an awesome day for Ramona High School, and it was a good day for San Diego,” Blankenbaker said.