The long trip, wet conditions and soft course were not enough to chip away at the aura of invincibility.
A deep field of the nation’s top runners couldn’t keep pace with the blistering pace of the Newbury Park High boys cross country team. Again.
Senior Colin Sahlman and his teammates shattered individual and team national records as the Panthers lived up to their billing as the greatest high school team to put on spikes, winning the Garmin RunningLane national championships Saturday in Huntsville, Alabama, by nearly 100 points.
“That was pretty good,” said head coach Sean Brosnan with a laugh.
Sahlman won the race in 14 minutes, 3.29 seconds, more than seven seconds faster than Dathan Ritzenheim’s 21-year-old record for a U.S. high school cross country 5K.
“He did a great job of putting things together when he needed to do it,” Brosnan said. “He was patience in the race.”
Juniors Leo Young and Lex Young finished second (14:05.07) and third (14:05.49), respectively, as the top four finishers all broke Ritzenheim’s previous national best of 14:10.40.
In fact, the Panthers’ national record average team time of 14:14 was only four seconds off previous individual record pace.
“To have five guys average just four seconds behind that is crazy,” Sahlman said. “That’s so unbelievably fast. Our team had the ability to do that, but to do it is surreal, really.”
That credit for the fast times went to junior Aaron Sahlman, who set the pace for most of the first half of the race.
“The MVP award goes to Aaron for sure,” said his older brother, Colin.
Aaron Sahlman finished sixth in 14:14.38.
“He did the brunt of the work,” Brosnan said. “He really helped that race go quick.”
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Senior Daniel Appleford finished 42nd in 14:44.92 as Newbury Park scored 29 points — 92 points better than the 121 by runner-up Cheyenne Mountain of Colorado Springs.
The team score far eclipsed the record 77 points Loudoun Valley (Va.) recorded at Nike Cross Nationals in 2018.
The national championship is the second straight for the program. Newbury Park won Nike Cross Nationals in 2019 with a completely different quintet.
“It’s just been a great culture at our school and our program,” Brosnan said. “Year after year, they want to be better and better.”
After NXN was canceled this season, Newbury Park quickly pivoted to the event at the grassy course at John Hunt Park.
The team flew into Nashville on Wednesday and made a two-hour drive to northern Alabama, training on the course Thursday and Friday.
Rain clouds arrived with race day, which didn’t slow the team used to running in perfect Ventura County conditions.
“It wasn’t really raining,” Colin Sahlman said. “It was more of a little drizzle. If anything, it was nice because it was cooler.”
There were some muddy bends to the course.
“They handled it well,” Brosnan said.
For his individual glory, Sahlman received a wrestling-style championship belt. Teammates received rings to signify their earned All-American status.
Their season fulfilled, the Panthers will take “a few days” to rest and refocus for track season.
“We have more to prove this year in track and next year in cross country,” Brosnan said. “We’ll have some big records to go after.”
Newbury Park senior Sam McDonnell finished sixth in 16:43.15 to lead Newbury Park to a ninth-place finish in the girls national championship race.
“I was a lot more relaxed this time than I was in Oregon two years ago,” said the University of Alabama commit, who was racing in her future state of residence for the first time. “I was super happy with my time and being able to push through it and come out with sixth was really special.”
Morgan Nygren was 111th (17:54.44), Ailish Hawkins was 123rd (17:58.96), Tiffany Sax was 133rd (18:01.29), Lexy Darley was 176th (18:26.77), and Samantha Spaulding was 19rd (18:35.92) for Newbury Park.
Agoura High senior Georgia McCorkle finished 36th in 17:19.58.
“The first mile felt pretty fast,” said the UC Berkeley commit. “I knew I had to push on the second. I was really happy with my time. It was what I was going for.”
Siblings Ethan Godsey and Payton Godsey both competed in the boys and girls races, respectively.
Ethan, an Agoura High senior, was 47th (14:48.91).
“There were a lot of hype around the race for sure,” Ethan said. “I came through 4:40 in the mile and there were 90 people in front of me. I was happy with how I moved up through the race.”
Payton, an Oaks Christian sophomore, finished 157th (18:12.25).
“It was not what I was hoping to do, but it was a good experience,” Payton said. “I’m glad I still have a few years left.”
The Godseys ran in front of their parents and grandparents, who made the trip south.
“It’s nice to have a family who’s all into running and we all travel together. My family is always very supportive. It’s fun to have all of us in the same sport together,” Payton said.
Without Godsey, who ran in the gold race, the Oaks Christian girls team finished third in the silver-level race.
Grace Geyer was 13th (18:07.68), Gianna Sanchez was 61st (18:54.18), Sarah Colebrooke was 101st (19:28.45), Elyse Grant was 120th (19:44.83), Elizabeth Walker was 126th (19:52.51), and Hannah Webb was 186th (21:39.13) for the Lions.
“It was definitely a different experience, not being on the line with my team and warming up,” said Payton.
Engelhardt takes second
Ventura High freshman Sadie Engelhardt placed second in the East Bay XC championships (formerly Foot Locker) West Regional at Mt. San Antonio College on Saturday, finishing the 5K in 17:24. She advanced to next week’s national meet at Balboa Park in San Diego.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Sahlman, Newbury Park run to national championships in Alabama