Loyola’s cross country team is used to hard work. Having practiced every day since June, these Cubs are unafraid to challenge themselves. After breezing their way to a qualifying spot in the CIF State Cross Country Championships with a strategic performance at CIF-SS Finals led by Coach Diaz, the Cubs of Loyola cross country find themselves at Woodward Park in Fresno to compete against the best runners in California.
Among the teams present at the State Championships were Newbury Park and Great Oak, fellow Southern Section teams that comprise Loyola’s only notable competition. Newbury Park is hailed as the greatest high school cross country team of all time, so beating them was off the table; however, the fight for second place was less set in stone since Great Oak beat Loyola by only six points in CIF Southern Section Finals the week prior. The teams were as evenly matched as cross country teams get. Beating Great Oak was Loyola’s only goal at the State Championships.
Parents, siblings, alumni, teammates and coaches past and present all joined the thousands of other spectators at Woodward Park to support Loyola. As the Cubs took to the starting line, they aim to locate Great Oak’s black jerseys and surpass them. Non-competing teammates and coaches spread strategically around to alert the Cub runners of their positions relative to Great Oak. As the gun fired, signaling the start of the race, not only did the runners take off, but also the spectators, constantly cutting around the course to reunite with the competitors at the next crucial checkpoint.
At the mile mark, Loyola spectators rejoiced that the Cubs had a significant lead over Great Oak; how- ever, over the next mile, Great Oak closed the gap between the two teams, and the race became anyone’s to win. As runner after runner crossed the finish line, spectators anxiously awaited announcement of the team results. Soon, the loudspeakers declared that Newbury Park had won, boasting a new course record for combined team score and time, followed by Great Oak and then Loyola in third.
Once the initial sting of losing to Great Oak wore off, the Cubs celebrated their third place finish over dinner and refocused on their next and final cross country race together: Garmin Runninglane Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Ala.
The Garmin Runninglane Cross Country Championships attracts 31 of the best high school cross nation and about 50 more of the best individual runners. At national meets like Garmin, teams shed the names of their school to run instead as clubs. Loyola’s cross country team dons the name of the Los Angeles Cubs to compete.
Though no stranger to national competition as the Loyola team competed in Nike Outdoor Nationals for track in the summer, the pressure of a nationwide audience provides an additional challenge.
Captain Richard Moreno ’22 described the atmosphere as “a ton of energy, lots of cheering, and high stakes.”
The Los Angeles Cubs came to the starting line in Alabama with the goal to place in the top 15, which would solidify their position among the best teams in the nation. After a flight across the country, months of training, and an intense race, the Cubs finished eleventh, led by Moreno with an impressive 5k time of 15:08, quite the accomplishment given that the Ala. race was the fastest high school 5k race in history.
In addition to the awards and recognition earned by the cross country team throughout their 2021 season, the close-knit Cubs have created a truly special community within Loyola.
Junior transfer student Henry Payne commented, “Being a part of the team has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Everyone has been super welcoming, and I’ve improved so much because I’m surrounded by people who have such a great passion and talent for running.”
The brotherhood established by the team is truly one of the greatest accomplishments of the decorated team’s many years at Loyola. With an impressive end to the 2021 season, the Loyola cross country team eagerly awaits the coming track season. Although track sea- son appears promising, the future of the team in the 2022 cross country season is uncertain, as four of Loyola’s top seven runners will graduate in June. Coach Diaz directly asked junior runner Jake Ratkovich, “Are we going to be good next year?” The answer is uncertain. Filling those gaps will prove the most important challenge for Loyola cross country in the coming years. Next year, leading juniors Jake Ratkovich, Henry Payne, and Harrison Lavery will have to step up to maintain Loyola’s position as a top cross country team in the nation.
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