Every year high school cross-country teams prepare for the challenges presented by the hilly course at Mt. San Antonio College — the site of the CIF Southern Section Division Finals — to improve their chances of advancing to the CIF State Meet.
All that training was for naught this season because of rain Friday night and some light drizzle on the day of the Division Championships on Saturday, which pushed the event onto an alternate course that's flat and mostly paved.
While some runners favored the switch, it spelled disaster and an end to the 2012 season for every local but Newport Harbor's Paige Tennison.
"I was focused on running Mt. SAC, the actual course," Tennison said. "I wanted to beat my time really bad from last year and I'm disappointed I didn't get a chance to do that because I feel like I was ready."
The senior standout was the only Sailor to advance to the Division Final and was certainly not flustered by the late change, which was announced just about an hour before the first race of the day, as she calls the rain course one of her favorites in cross-country.
Tennison proceeded to win the girls' Division II race easily, edging second-place finisher Samantha Ortega of Saugus by 13 seconds, as the lone Newport Harbor representative crossed the line in 16 minutes 13 seconds.
Tennison couldn't make up her mind on whether or not it was a surprise to win the way she did.
"I expected to have more competition in the second loop," she said, "and I was surprised some of the other girls started dropping off, but I've been working really hard so I guess it's not that surprising."
Tennison was the only local to advance to the CIF State Meet, which is at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 24. Her gameplan for the final cross-country meet of her career will be simple.
"Well, I mean, go big or go home," she said. "Of course, I want to win — it's my senior year."
It was a disappointing end to the season for all the teams that missed out on the top-seven cut to State, but it was especially heartbreaking for the Corona del Mar and Sage Hill boys' teams.
Both the Sea Kings and Lightning finished eighth in their respective divisions, seeing their bids for a trip to State dashed by just about a handful of points each.
Corona del Mar Coach Bill Sumner was surprised CIF decided to switch to Mt. SAC's rain course Saturday.
"The nightmare is you train and train and train and you know you're going to end up at Mt. SAC … and you train for that Mt. SAC course and they change the course," Sumner said. "There's times when you have to change the course, but they didn't have to do that today. It wasn't that wet. It was a quick, quick call."
Corona del Mar (213) did a great job of packing its top-three, but missed out on State by 13 points. Oak Park was the final team to stamp its tickets in Division III with 200 points.
Reid Meckler (29th, 14:52), Teddy Parks (31st, 14:54) and Spencer Keith (33rd, 14:56) gave the Sea Kings a shot at State, as the trio crossed the finish line in a four-second window, but Corona del Mar had a lot to overcome after two Eagles rounded out the top-five individual finishers.
Greg May (69th, 15:30) and Ethan Hold (82nd, 15:46) concluded the scoring for the Sea Kings.
"We had three guys under 15 [minutes] so that's huge, but it comes down to the four and five guy," said Parks, whose team came in ranked 10th in Division III. "Bottom line is we're ranked right above the seven spots who make State, so it's everyone try to have the race of your lives because it's going to be close."
Sage Hill's top-four also packed well, as they all finished within a 14-second span, in the first race of the day. It still wasn't enough to outdo Desert Christian, which took the seventh spot in Division V with 187 points.
"Our goal was to be in that top-seven today," Sage Hill Coach Nate Miller said. "I'm proud of how the guys ran, but it just wasn't our best day and we had some injury problems. They came at a bad time of the year."