Google “Things to Do in Temecula” and 16 of the top 20 are winery related.
The others are visiting Old Town, Pechanga Resort and Casino (the state’s largest), a children’s museum and hot air ballooning.
Perhaps distance running – specifically, high school cross country at Great Oak – belongs on the list.
Rain or shine, the Wolfpack will surely be radiant Saturday at the 30th CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
This is one of three high schools in Temecula, a booming community of 100,000-plus in southeastern Riverside County, 60 miles north of San Diego.
This is a 13-year-old school of 3,600 students whose boys and girls have established a pattern of running 3 miles or so as good, if not better, than any in America.
Great Oak’s boys, who won the Nike Cross Nationals title last year with arguably the best prep team of all time, have captured the past two state Division I championships and are favored to deliver another while ranked third nationally by Dyestat.com. And to think they graduated their top six runners from a 2015 team that averaged an astonishing 15 minutes, 14 seconds among their top five in the state meet while timing a record 76:09 on Woodward’s 3.1-mile course.
The Wolfpack girls, recent second- and third-place NCN finishers and ranked second nationally, will have to experience a sudden flu epidemic to be denied a fifth-consecutive state D-I crown and sixth in seven years. They have five runners, three of whom have signed major-college scholarships, share team No. 1 roles, which is virtually unheard of in the sport.
Hence, another state top-division plaque is in order. And this isn’t any state.
This isn’t North Dakota, Delaware or Maine.
This is California, which sponsors more high school cross country programs (1,267) than any state in the land. And that’s from a total of 1,582 member schools.
Great Oak, in cross country at least, is therefore so appropriately named – great, imposing and majestic.
It’s definitely an honor, definitely something special, to run in the Great Oak uniform. We can hear people on the sidelines comment how awesome we look.
Great Oak-Temecula runner and Washington State recruit Kiyena Beatty
Kiyena Beatty puts it this way: “It’s definitely an honor, definitely something special, to run in the Great Oak uniform. Not a lot of teams can dominate on both sides (boys and girls) as Great Oak has. We can hear people on the sidelines comment how awesome we look. I’ve definitely been very blessed to come into a team like this in high school.”
She’s a senior signed with Washington State and a four-year varsity runner in an insanely deep program that conditions its freshmen and sophomores to wait their turns until they are juniors and seniors.
And while Beatty’s scholarship is a cool deal, reality is it’s merely become commonplace for the school whose runners wear red uniforms with unmistakable “G O” white letters.
The Wolfpack had 15 cross country runners sign major-college scholarships last year, including six to the Pac-12 and four to Texas, featuring state champion Destiny Collins.
Great Oak has advanced an average of about 10 distance runners to college programs for several years.
And know this: It isn’t at all about Temecula being a hotbed of distance running.
The city’s other high schools – Temecula Valley (3,500 students) and Chaparrel (3,325) – have not been factors on the state level in cross country.
So why Great Oak?
“He’s the guy to chase right now,” Buchanan’s Brian Weaver says of the coach who launched Great Oak’s program when the school opened in 2004. “He’s an intense guy who instills in his kids, ‘We’re going to outwork everyone.’ They buy into him and he cares about them all; you might be their 10th-, 11th- or 12th-best freshman, but he’ll give you as much attention as the best freshman.”
A lot of distance coaches have that old distance mindset, but I don’t have that. When you’re trained as a young sprinter, you want to be the big dog, the top of the heap. And how I was trained carries over to what we do.
Great Oak High cross country coach Doug Soles
Soles’ resume has grown to the point his days at Great Oak would seem to be numbered. The school, in fact, almost lost him this summer to Brigham Young University, where he was a finalist for a women’s distance-running position.
But the 41-year-old is married with three children, lives in a “beautiful home” and considers Temecula “paradise.”
Soles’ story is an improbable one given this: He was a sprinter in high school (Seaside of Oregon) and college (Western Oregon).
Distance coaches are often former distance runners, but Soles thinks maybe he has an edge: “We have a lot more swagger than most teams, and that’s my sprint side coming out.”
In Soles’ empire, he has implemented time standards runners must meet in the summer to make the team. There are 115 boys and girls runners in this year’s program, a figure that would be doubled sans the time trials.
“The difference for our 115 compared to another’s 115 is 95 percent are seriously dialed-in runners,” he says. “Most Great Oak kids on the line give you a pretty good race.”
Its boys did in the Clovis Invitational Sweepstakes at Woodward Park in early October, having all seven runners clock sub-16 minutes – virtually fantasyland in the prep arena – led by juniors Jacob Korgan (15:32) and Carlos Carvajal (15:37).
Consider that 13 of 562 Central Section boys runners in five divisions in last week’s section finals ran sub-16s. And this from a section becoming progressively more relevant on the state level.
Great Oak’s girls, similarly, dominated the Clovis Invitational Sweepstakes behind Beatty (17:55), Evelyn Mandel (17:56) and Sandra Pflughoft (17:59).
Seven of 491 Central Section girls runners beat 18 minutes in the finals.
It’s a different planet for those logging miles in Temecula.
At Great Oak, that is.
There, indeed, it’s paradise.
Race times for Saturday’s CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
- Division IV Boys: 8:30 a.m.
- D-V Boys: 9 a.m.
- D-IV Girls: 9:30 a.m.
- D-V Girls: 10:05 a.m.
- D-I Boys: 10:40 a.m.
- DII Girls: 11:10 a.m.
- DIII Boys: 11:45 a.m.
- D-I Girls: 12:15 p.m.
- D-II Boys: 12:50 p.m.
- D-III Girls: 1:20 p.m.