It isn’t exactly a surprise that either the Xavier Prep boys cross country team and La Quinta freshman Akemi Von Scherr qualified for Saturday’s CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno, but the feat in itself is nonetheless impressive.
Talking performance within one’s own division, the Saints’ runners have been the most successful sports team in the valley in the past decade, with seven consecutive state finals appearances and one state title to their name.
The team has come up with a state meet ritual now. Meet at IHOP on Friday morning. Take a short hike in the mountains bordering downtown Palm Springs to sit, meditate and reflect on the prior meets and what they have ahead of them. Take in a healthy-sized meal of pancakes, before driving the exact same route and making gas and snack stops at the same spots before Fresno.
For two of Xavier Prep’s three seniors – Braulio Ramirez and Adrihel Ibarra – Saturday will be their third state meet, after running No. 6 and No. 7 on the state title-winning team two years ago.
They both said they remember that day vividly, down to the roar of their fans and nerves of standing on the start line, and that experience, along with a somewhat disappointing fifth-place finish a year ago, will be with them as they take the course for the final time.
“We don’t want to forget last year,” Ibarra said. “It’s all about the process, trusting the system. Last year was just extra motivation. We knew what we wanted to do and fell a little bit short, but this year I think we have everything in place.”
No one was talking specific expectations coming into the meet, and for good reason. The Saints are certainly better than their performance a week ago where they finished tied for seventh in the CIF SS Division 5 finals, advancing on a sixth-man tiebreaker. Each of the top three Southern Section teams, including the defending state champs Flintridge Prep, nearly put their scoring five in front of Xavier Prep’s top runner last Saturday.
This Saturday is just about turning in seven solid performances and seeing where that might fall.
“Last week, we came in saying we wanted to be in this place or that place, and that’s just too much talking,” Michael Branconier said. “We’re going to go out and see what our best run gets us, and if it’s fifth or anything else, we’ll take it, even though we always want first.”
Von Scherr, making her first state appearance in her first try, is likewise just going into Saturday to test herself and see what she can do. The La Quinta freshman and her coach Amanda Pierson both said Saturday’s Division 1 race is much more about gaining familiarity and confidence for future state runs than making a major splash this year.
“It’s really kinda exciting to make it as a freshman and gives me that extra confidence down the road while I’m in high school, I hope,” Von Scherr said. “I’m just happy to make it, and whatever the outcome is, I’ll be happy with it.”
“I just want her to be out there and have that experience and be out there with those top people in the state and see what she can do,” Pierson said. “I definitely think she can run in the low 17 (minutes) and even break it if she’s having a good day.”
The freshman joins La Quinta grad Megan Huebner and former Blackhawk runner and current Indio student Marisa Rodriguez as the only valley girls to run in the state meet as individuals in recent memory. As a freshman in the fall of 2016, Rodriguez finished 38th in 18:33 while Huebner took 19th in 18:00, not quite reaching her junior season performance of fifth place (17:48).
After running up against seven of the top 10 girls in the state at the CIF SS finals, Von Scherr has a pretty good idea of where she stands and who she needs to stay with to have an optimal race, and like the Saints, as long as she can leave the finish chute satisfied without anything left in the tank, she’ll be happy.
The biggest thing she can gain from this race, the freshman and her coach said, is experience and confidence that can help her establish the same type of state meet routine the Saints have developed themselves for the next three years.
“We already knew she was fast, but this season was just about learning her pace,” Pierson said. “Moving forward as a sophomore and on, she’s going to go in with that confidence that comes from qualifying for state, knowing what she can do.
“It’s going to be good to know where she can go from here.”
CIF State Cross Country Championships
Where: Woodward Park in Fresno
Xavier Prep boys (Division 5 race): 9 a.m.
La Quinta’s Akemi Von Scherr (Division 1 race): 12:15 p.m.