By Zach Cavanagh
After many delays, wading through California’s coronavirus monitoring tier system and outlasting a regional stay-at-home order, high school sports competition makes its long-awaited return on Saturday, Feb. 6.
For the first time in nearly 11 full months, Dana Hills High School will be in a competitive athletic event, as Dolphin boys and girls cross country teams kick off their seasons. The Dana Hills boys will open at Aliso Niguel with the varsity running at 9:30 a.m., and the Dolphins girls will host Trabuco Hills with the varsity running at 9:20 a.m.
“We’ve obviously been training for quite a long time,” Dana Hills boys cross country coach Craig Dunn said. “We’re excited to have some sort of a season. They’ve been preparing. They’re ecstatic.”
As part of the COVID-19 protocols teams will have to follow, the boys and girls teams will always be at separate sites, usually flipping hosting duties each week. Parents will also be the only outside spectators allowed at the races.
Unlike the usual long grind of invitationals far and wide, league meets and a championship-event season in the fall, the new 2021 season is a condensed five-week schedule of league dual meets pitting two schools against each other on on-campus courses. There is the possibility for a league-finals meet at the end of the schedule, but it still needs approval of the district and health officials because of the multiple schools that would be in attendance.
“It’s way different,” Dana Hills girls cross country coach Nic Smith said of dual meets versus invitationals. “It’s much more personal. You can see the girl that’s trying to pass you and take your points, and she can see you. It’s a learning curve, but everybody is in the same boat.”
Dunn’s boys team has put in their miles, and after getting in their speed work through January, the 2019 CIF-SS and State runner-up Dolphins are hitting the season at the right time.
Dana Hills will be led by junior Jai Dawson. As a sophomore in 2019, Dawson won the individual South Coast League title with a 3-mile personal record of 14:17, placed fourth at the CIF-SS finals and sixth at the 5,000-meter state course.
Three seniors who will help push the Dolphins in the South Coast League are Gianni Viola, Brandon Pizao and Ryan Broadhead. Like Dawson, all three hit their 3-mile personal records at the previous South Coast League finals.
Dana Hills will also see contributions from junior Nick Burke, who won the sophomore league title last season, and sophomore Jude Landgraf, who won the freshman league title last season.
For the Dolphins girls team, Smith sees an interesting season ahead with his young group of runners.
Dana Hills loses its top runner from last year to graduation, but that won’t be too much trouble, as the Dolphins bring back sophomore Allura Markow. Markow burst onto the scene as a freshman with a 12th-place finish at CIF-SS finals and an eighth-place run at the state meet.
“She’s an all-star. A once-in-every-five-or-six-years kind of kid,” Smith said. “So the aim is filling in the spots around her and finding some girls that can bridge that gap.”
Junior Ali Germain returns as veteran member of a group that will feature freshmen Tessa Anderson and Cooper Murphy.
Without the typical championship events to set goals to work up to, Smith is being realistic with the group in what they can accomplish in this five-week sprint and trying to set them up for the upcoming track season and the fall’s hopefully full and normal cross country season.
“It’s something that we’re constantly evaluating and working on,” Smith said. “For now, it’s getting the first race in; that’s the motivation there. Let’s have it rip. It’s been a challenge with all the girls to give them that long-term perspective.”
South Coast League Schedule
Boys: Dana Hills at Aliso Niguel
Girls: Trabuco Hills at Dana Hills
Boys: El Toro at Dana Hills
Girls: Dana Hills at El Toro
Boys: Dana Hills at San Clemente
Girls: San Clemente at Dana Hills
Boys/Girls: Dana Hills – BYE
Boys: Mission Viejo at Dana Hills
Girls: Dana Hills at Mission Viejo
South Coast League Finals (Tenative)
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at email@example.com.