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Highland runner states her case

first_imgWALNUT – The moments following the Southern Section Div. I girls’ cross-country finals on Saturday were filled with uncertainty for Highland High’s Caitlin Fitzgerald and coach John Johnston. Fitzgerald finished 10th with a time of 18 minutes, 24 seconds on the 2.91-mile Mt. San Antonio College course, but wouldn’t know if she qualified for this Saturday’s state meet until the official results were published. The top five runners not on an advancing team earn an individual berth at Woodward Park in Fresno, granted they finish in the top 20. Fitzgerald has had close misses before. She missed advancing to last year’s section final by one spot. But this time, she earned the final individual state-meet berth. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Fitzgerald wasn’t the only Highland runner at Mt. SAC on Saturday, although she was the only one racing. Four members of the Bulldogs boys’ team painted their chests in Highland’s scarlet and yellow and spelled out “F-I-T-Z.” Other Highland runners painted shirts to cheer on Fitzgerald. “Guess we’re going to need some more paint,” one runner remarked when they found out Fitzgerald would run at the state meet. Three-time Golden League champion Brienna Morris, fifth at the state meet as a freshman, failed to advance to that race for the second consecutive year. The Quartz Hill junior finished 15th in the section final with a time of 18:49. Gradual improvement: Andrea Gutierrez was blunt about the state of the 2002 Paraclete cross-country team. “We (stunk), but then we got Ken (Lemus),” she said. “We’ve gotten a little bit better each year.” Lemus coached the Spirits to the Southern Section finals in 2003 and the state meet the next year. They’ll run at state again on Saturday after finishing third in last Saturday’s Southern Section Div. IV final. The Spirits are confident they can improve on last year’s sixth-place finish at Woodward Park. They entered the 2004 race unranked, but are No. 6 in Div. IV statewide this year. The Southern Section final was the last race at Mt. SAC for Gutierrez, the only senior in Paraclete’s top seven. She was only slightly sentimental when she realized that fact. Relief seemed to be the overwhelming emotion in her voice. Not only is Mt. SAC, which hosts an annual invitational and all section postseason meets, a very demanding course, but the Spirits had to leave campus at 5 a.m. Saturday to arrive on time. Young leader: Last year, Alexis Velasquez’s Paraclete teammates helped pull her through the Southern Section final. This year, she set the pace. Velasquez finished 12th with a time of 19:30 on the 2.91-mile course. The sophomore was eight seconds ahead of freshman Haley Kennedy; Alpha League champion Kaitlin Huerta finished in 19:42. “I think all the invitationals we run helped teach me to pace myself,’ Velasquez said. She also led the team with a second-place finish in its race at the Mt. SAC Invitational in October. Loosen up: The Paraclete boys’ team will also run at Woodward Park on Saturday. It entered the Southern Section Div. IV final as the fourth-ranked team, but finished seventh. The Spirits were only 12 points away from not advancing to state. “(Our finish) was OK, but it’s not what we wanted,” Lemus said. “You could see them get tense. You could see it in their shoulders. I tell them in practice to relax. You’re running with your best friends, what do you have to worry about? Forget about the other teams.” Sophomore Edwin Flores, the Alpha League individual champion, led Paraclete with a 10th-place finish in 16:28. So close: Rosamond’s Melissa Olmos missed advancing to the state meet by one second. She finished 14th in the Southern Section Div. IV final with a time of 19:32. La Salle of Pasadena’s Margaret Sitker finished 13th in 19:31 to grab the fifth and final spot. Sean Martin, (818) 713-3607 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more