Walnut, CA — The Valencia Vikings Cross Country team looked to make their mark as they competed against the region’s top teams at the CIF Southern Section prelims. With stiff competition, the Vikings knew they needed to bring their best to make the cut and continue the season. In the heats of Division 1, the top four teams and top six individuals would advance to the sectional finals next week. The return to the famous Mt. SAC cross country course brought not only the challenges of the competition, but also the hilly terrain of the toughest course the runners would face all season. The Lady Vikings team squeaked into the meet with their fourth-place performance at league and were looking to gain some familiarity and experience racing in the post-season. Senior Kami Grossman was focused on securing an individual spot in the finals and was with the front pack coming through the mile at 5:43. The quick first mile took a toll on her through the hilly second mile as she slipped back to sixteenth at the 2-mile mark. She held her position and finished strong at 19:55; not the result she was hoping for, but she gave her all on the course and can be proud of her effort. Senior Gianna Iezza has been running consistently and controlled the past few races; she looked comfortable after the first mile and moved up through the remainder of the race; her 21:16 was an improvement for her performance here at the invite. Senior Lauren Tran has been fighting off an illness all week with positivity and a sprinkle of denial, although not feeling her best, she was determined to toe the line. After a measured start, she pulled through for the team moving up significantly in the second mile and holding on to finish at 21:55. Frosh Liana Sushunsky found herself deep in the pain cave today and showed the depth of her perseverance to push through and move up positions in the second half to finish in 22:32. Valentina Soto Navarrete’s first ever attempt at the Mt. SAC course had her hanging on to Sushinsky for the first two miles, but slipping back over the always tough Reservoir Hill to finish out the scoring Vikings at 23:18. The lady Vikings rounded out with the Aina Sisters stepping up to fill the roster. Senior Sara Aina was determined to finish out her XC career despite her struggles with plantar facetious this season; she fought through at 24:24 while Soph Hannah was just back at 25:00. The Lady Vikings gained some much-needed experience racing in the post season and will be looking to make this an annual trip in the future. The Varsity boys lined up knowing they needed a strong team performance to advance the finals. An enthusiastic start had our top four runners under 5 minutes at the mile split and in the hunt for the last qualifying spot of the heat. By the two-mile split the front pack was largely intact with Ayden Buchanan and Tyler Chang tucked in and leading the Vikings. A strong last mile had Chang finishing in a pack at 11th place in 15:50. An impressive performance and a season best on this course, but a heartbreaker, as he was less than a second from 6th place and the last individual qualifying spot. Buchanan gritted out the last mile and crossed at 16:13 in 15th. Grant Young’s quick start had him feeling it on the hills that followed; he hung on working the descents to finish at 16:49. Frosh Emilio Oviedo was recently recovered from a nasty illness and his 17:17 was a valiant effort as he gave his all for the team. Seniors Davis Simonian and Jake Brooke along with Soph Noah Flores had a smartly controlled first mile rolling though about 20 seconds behind the front Vikings. Simonian continued to inch through the pack finishing at 17:50. Brooke hung on as long as he could, but the last miles proved to be tough, and he faded to 18:23. Flores has been struggling to recover from an earlier illness and gutted out an 18:33 for the Vikings. Overall, the tepid team performance was not enough to secure a qualifying spot as the Vikings finished sixth in the heat. Across the board, the Vikings are sure to have learned from their experiences this season. As coaches, we feel privileged to have worked with such an enthusiastic and fun-loving team. We are proud of the diligence, resiliency, and perseverance that you have exhibited this season while striving to reach your goals. Our hope is that these attributes will spillover to other aspects of your life and become part of you that you can draw upon when challenged in the future. Up next for the Vikings is a well-deserved break before returning to the grindstone to hone themselves into polished athletes for the Spring track season.