America's finest 1-2 combination of high school distance runners of opposite gender descended upon Woodward Park Saturday morning and did what they do, arriving at the finish line first and with separation at the 35th Asics Clovis Invitational.
Their names stirring among the masses before, while and after they ran, Stockdale's Blake Haney and Simi Valley's Sarah Baxter won Championship Division features to further establish themselves as state favorites in seven weeks at the same venue.
They didn't threaten course records, nor did they really try to in a meet that drew 3,342 runners and about 7,000 people in all under splendid conditions.
Haney, owner of the nation's fastest 3-mile time this season (13:55) but his body "sore" from training, actually was pushed for half the race by Brea Olinda sophomore Austin Tamagno before winning in 15 minutes, 2 seconds on a 3.1-mile course with one ornery second-half hill.
"I felt all right, but not as good as I was expecting," said Haney, who has made recruiting visits to Georgetown and Stanford, and also will visit Arizona State and Oregon. "I ran smooth, but my legs were kind of tired."
On a day when youth flourished -- including Madera South freshman Miguel Villar -- Tamagno finished second in 15:07, third best for a sophomore in the history of the state's signature venue for 30 years.
Baxter, never threatened -- and rarely has she been in a four-year unbeaten cross country career -- won by 17 seconds in 17:00.
This came 11 months after the two-time defending national champion clocked a course-record 16:40 for her third straight CIF State Championship gold.
"It was tough, but I'm happy," said Baxter, a recruiting target at Oregon, Washington, Colorado and a list of other colleges. "Everything's tough about the course; it always has been."
Haney and Baxter, as seniors, make their final appearances at Woodward on Nov. 30, when the state finals return for a 27th time.
Haney said he would like to run a sub-14:40, which would approach the six-year course record of 14:24 by Riverbank's German Fernandez. Haney also gets a shot at the Central Section finals Nov. 21.
Baxter said she will target her course standard at state: "I wasn't thinking about it today, not today. Saving it for state, I guess."
It will be then that Villar makes his state debut in what has blossomed into one of the most promising careers in section history.
He placed 16th in the Championship Boys race at 15:36, the seventh-best freshman time in course annals.
Further, he was part of a Stallions cast that pressed nationally ranked Arcadia.
Madera South -- five-time defending section champion (in three divisions) under coach Rich Parris and getting better -- also received an eighth from sophomore Eduardo Herrera (15:26), a 22nd from senior Michael Marquez (15:44), a 29th from junior Juan Macias (15:48) and a 35th from senior David Garcia (15:54) in the 169-runner field to score 95 points.
That was only 15 behind winner Arcadia, top-ranked in the state again after routing the state D-I field a year ago.
Herrera, who only has been running for a little more than a year, blew away his previous Woodward best by a remarkable 46 seconds while also beating by 10 seconds the career-best time by his brother, Jose Herrera -- The Bee's 2012 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, who now is competing for Long Beach State.
"I look up to him as my brother," Eduardo said. "It was my goal to beat his records; that's what's given me motivation in training. Now, since I did, I'll try to set my own records for my teammates."
Other highlights involving section runners:
**Leigh Moffett, a two-time cross country All-Star from Clovis North, topped Central Section female performances by placing fourth in the Championship Division at 17:36. That was a 15-second personal record for a senior with a weighted GPA of 4.1. She may next run in the Ivy League for Dartmouth or Cornell.
**Buchanan's girls, ranked second in the state's D-I by www.prepcaltrack.com, still managed to place fourth in the Championship Division despite running without Bee All-Star Maddy Nikkel (knee). The Bears were led by juniors Hannah Benoit-Bucher (seventh, 18:11) and Miranda Kennedy (14th, 18:23).
**Clovis North placed fifth in the Championship Boys Division behind senior Connor Nolen (sixth, 15:16) and junior Psalm Ocampo (14th, 15:34).
**McFarland, in D-IV Small Schools, won the boys and placed third in girls.
**Kingsburg junior Alexis Torres (15:42) scored a silver medal in the D-IV boys.
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