By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys cross country team competed in the Sweepstakes Race of the Mt. SAC Invitational meet on the Mount San Antonio College campus in Walnut on Saturday and finished eighth among the 14 boys teams in the elite Sweepstakes Division.
“I would say we had an average day,” said Coach Steve Albanese. “I’m happy with overall where we ended up. I think being eighth is still very good in that race. I just know the guys have more in them.”
The reality is that Ramona’s runners had less in them at the end of the 2.93-mile race than Albanese and his team had planned.
“Our racing style is to go out conservative and build throughout the race, but the whole field went out very hard,” Albanese said.
The Bulldog runners had to choose between matching that pace or ending up in the back.
“They got pulled along to a very fast first mile, faster than the pace they’ve been hitting in practice,” Albanese said. “I think that put them in oxygen debt and caused them to slow down the last two miles.”
Ramona’s fourth finisher, Donny McKay, had a first-mile time of 4:56 but had been told to run the first mile at a 5:10 pace.
“If he went out in 5:10 he would have been in last place, which shows how fast the whole field went out,” Albanese said.
Four of the 14 schools in the Sweepstakes Race were from the CIF San Diego Section. La Costa Canyon finished sixth, Rancho Bernardo placed 13th, and Torrey Pines settled for 14th place. La Costa Canyon, which like Ramona is in Division II for CIF section meet and state meet purposes, finished 15 points ahead of Ramona, which equates to an average of three positions per scored runner.
“This was a learning experience for them and for me as a coach,” Albanese said. “I tell the guys they need to run their own race, but it’s really hard when the whole field is going that fast not to get caught up in that kind of a pace.”
A total of 97 boys ran in the Sweepstakes Race. La Costa Canyon senior Darren Fahy was the first individual finisher, taking 14:41 to complete the course.
Ramona senior Dylan Blankenbaker was the second San Diego Section finisher and placed fifth overall with a time of 14:52. Blankenbaker had a first-mile time of 4:43.
“I think he paid for it a little bit at the end of the race, but he was still finishing as strong as the other top guys,” Albanese said.
Fahy broke away from the lead pack approximately two miles into the race. Blankenbaker fell from fifth to seventh during the final mile before passing the two runners who had passed him.
“I’m very pleased with Dylan’s time,” Albanese said.
Blankenbaker ran the course in 15:02 last year.
Ramona’s second finisher was junior Forrest Riley, whose time of 16:12 gave him 16th place overall. Riley had a time of 15:55 in the 2010 race.
Alec Richardson’s time of 15:56 gave him 44th place. McKay finished 60th with a time of 16:24, which was favorable compared to his time of 16:52 last year. Cory Thomas finished 66th after completing the course in 16:33; Thomas’ time last year was 17:28.
Graham Gantzer was Ramona’s sixth finisher, posting a time of 16:48 to take 78th place while improving on his 2010 time of 17:43.
Josh Spieker ran despite being ill during the week, and his 5:00 first mile was followed by a 6:24 second mile. “Really paid for that first mile,” Albanese said.
Spieker finished 93rd in the Sweepstakes race, and his time of 17:28 trailed three Ramona runners who competed in the National Championship Junior Varsity Race. Spieker had a time of 17:07 when he ran the Mt. SAC course in 2010.
Ramona’s top finisher in the junior varsity race was Tristan Stidham, whose time of 16:44 placed 30th overall. Ian Pedlow’s time of 16:53 gave him 39th place in the JV race while Isaiah Spieker had a time of 17:26 to place 73rd.
The Bulldogs face Rancho Bernardo on the Black Mountain course in Palomar League competition on Friday.