Individuals shine for LCC at cross country championships; Girls earn state bid with second place finish
Following a pandemic-driven season bereft of major events, having the CIF Championships on the racing calendar Saturday at Balboa Park’s Morley Field produced a palpable sense of joy for the prep cross country world—like getting re-acquainted with an old friend.
A new beginning, definitely, but it was marked the end of an era for La Costa Canyon, the final San Diego section meet for veteran Head Coach Bill Vice, under whose tutelage the past 23 years, LCC has become a fixture on the podium at this affair. Vice-coached units have captured 13 CIF team crowns since 2010.
Saturday, the Mavericks, running this year in the Division III races, were unable to add to that total but thanks in great measure to a pair of stellar individual performances, it was still a day for LCC to celebrate.
In the morning’s opening race, junior Jacob Niednagel became the ninth La Costa Canyon boy to snag a CIF gold medal when he powered past team champion Hilltop’s Jimmy Byland in the final stretch to win with authority, clocking 15:16.5 over the 2.96 mile course. Byland pushed hard early and opened a sizeable lead but Niednagel felt he had the gap measured and was comfortable that he could reel him in.
“Although it was a little tighter than I expected and it wasn’t until we hit the dirt headed toward the finish that I was certain I would catch him (Byland), I wasn’t really concerned at any point in the race,” said Niednagel as he was congratulated by well-wishers after the race. “I came in expecting to win but it feels so great, I’m just really happy. My main goal was getting to the state meet and winning the race was a bonus.”
Vice was elated over what he saw from Niednagel.
“You want your kids to run their best at the end of the year,” said Vice. “Jacob has the talent, he’s had the potential but been a little inconsistent in his training. When he stepped to the line today you could just tell he was focused.
“When he’s locked in, he can do things like this. He just needs to do it more—and he will as he progresses. Getting back into contention like he did, that’s instinct, and the move he made coming across the road, that was sweet—he had a lot left.” Niednagel’s older brother, Caleb, now at Colorado, won a CIF cross country individual championship as a senior in 2019.
As a team, in an incredibly tight finish, LCC wound up seventh with 127 points. Hilltop with 95, Cathedral Catholic and El Capitan with 110 were the top three teams and will be headed to Fresno for this weekend’s CIF State Meet. The Mavericks’ four scorers after Niednagel were all sophomores, Hudson Shaver (10th), Austin Young (28th), Grant Marcucci (37th) and Ethan Gordon (56th).
“At this point, for this young group to come up with something like this was fantastic,” Vice said. “They really battled and were in the running for State. Seventeen points…that’s not a lot in cross country.” Shaver will be joining Niednagel in the State Meet field as an individual.
About an hour after Niednagel crossed the finish line, Vice’s girls punched their own ticket to the State Meet, riding a solid second place showing by senior Kyra Compton to snare team runner-up honors behind defending D-III titlist Cathedral Catholic (32-44).
After spotting eventual winner Sophie Compton (no relation but, yes, two Comptons going head-to-head) an advantage of more than 10 seconds, it looked, for a moment like Kyra Compton might duplicate Niednagel’s come-from-behind maneuver. But after narrowing the interval to around five seconds, the LCC standout dropped back to finish just under seven seconds behind in 18:05.6.
A rush of Mavericks followed Compton home with junior Sophia Biesinger (7th), sophomore Gioana Lopizzo (8th), senior Rebekah Niednagel (12th), junior Kira Larner (15th) and senior Emma Stanford (20th) checking in 53 seconds apart to give LCC six runners in the top 20. There was no banner this time but Vice was raving about the group effort post-race.
“Our kids are gamers and they really wanted it today,” said Vice. “I mean six runners in the top 20 and you don’t win—that’s one of the best teams in the state right there (Cathedral). Less than a month ago, they destroyed us at the Mt. SAC Invitational, so to be close like that today was a credit to our girls.”
Vice was equally enthused with the races turned in by his frontrunner and the support group. “Kyra ran a smart race,” said Vice. “She held contact when the other girl tried to get away and finished strong against a tough adversary.
“The middle of our pack was much better than last week at the league championship—we’re getting healthier and starting to peak. Sophia Biesinger was a good example of that. She was fighting some sickness earlier in the season and was our No. 7 runner at Mt. SAC. She was No. 2 today, that’s impressive.”
Next up will be another rematch with Cathedral Catholic at the CIF State Meet in Fresno this Saturday (Nov. 27). “I like our chances at State,” declared Vice.”With the other teams in there those top spots are going to get spread around. For us, it will really be kind of a simple strategy—we’ve got to get our runners in front of their runners and score more points.”
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