Sadie Engelhardt's new personal best falls short of victory at Woodbridge Classic

For a runner whose only competition is typically herself, Saturday night was another opportunity to make history — and that is precisely what Sadie Engelhardt did. The Ventura High junior broke her own record in the Bob Day girls’ sweepstakes race at the 42nd Woodbridge Cross-Country Classic.

Only this time her best was not quite good enough to win. In fact, it only got her third. Engelhardt clocked 15 minutes 37.4 seconds on a flat 3.022-mile course at Great Park in Irvine, easily lowering her winning mark of 15:42.6 at the same venue last year, which was then the fastest three-mile cross-country time by a high school girl in United States history.

Junior Jane Hedengren of Provo (Utah) Timpview established a new national prep standard of 15:32.5 to edge sophomore Elizabeth Leachman of Boerne (Texas) Champion by one tenth of a second in a tremendous duel to the finish in the varsity girls’ rated race.

“I didn’t run this race last year but my coach talked me into it and it was fun,” said Leachman, who took the lead in the first mile and maintained it until being caught at the end. “I only took it out that fast because I was getting shoved at the beginning and thought I might get tripped.”

Engelhardt had a smile on her face when she received her award at the post-meet ceremony after becoming the first female to run multiple sub-16-minute times at Woodbridge. She nearly did it in 2021 as a freshman with a 16:04.6 effort at SilverLakes Sports Complex — still the fastest by a ninth-grader.

“I think I knew with the talent in this field that the record would be broken,” Engelhardt said. “That pace was crazy and it never died off. Usually around the halfway point I’ve got a comfortable lead and I felt pretty relaxed in the first mile here but seeing the other girls weren’t going to slow down made me have to shift to a higher gear earlier than I wanted. Still, I’m happy with it. I couldn’t ask for anything more, except the win.”

Junior Rylee Blade of Corona Santiago took fourth in 15:42.0, also beating Engelhardt’s winning time last year.

JSerra took second place in the team standings with 146 points. Air Academy of Colorado Springs, the reigning 5A state champion, was first with a score of 77, posting the second-fastest team time in meet history (82:50), second only to Buchanan’s 82:33 last fall.

In the final race of the two-day event, Dana Hills junior Evan Noonan won the Doug Speck boys’ sweepstakes race in 13:41.3, using a late kick to surge past runner-up and friend Anthony Fast Horse of Ventura (13:48.1), who himself held off a late charge from third-place Emmanuel Perez (13:50.7) of L.A. Cathedral.

“This is my opener this season, so I’m super happy,” said Noonan, who was 20th at the mile mark and fifth after two miles before closing with a flourish. “Anthony and I are in the same [CIF] division so we’ve run against each other many times for track too. You can’t hear anything behind you, I was just hoping Anthony wasn’t coming.”

It was a dazzling debut for Noonan, who as a sophomore doubled to capture the 1,600- and 3,200-meter titles at the Southern Section Division 2 finals at Moorpark last spring.

“Evan’s always out-kicking me so it was no surprise when I saw him going by in that last 600, but Manny [Perez] was a demon today and I had to give everything I had to make sure he didn’t pass me,” said Fast Horse, a senior of Lakota heritage and from the same tribe as Billy Mills, gold medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Herriman (Utah) won the boys’ team crown with a score of 93, followed by Southlake (Texas) Carroll (142) and Great Oak (155).

One of the most surprising results of the day came from South Pasadena junior Abigail Errington, who shaved 37 seconds off last year’s time to win in 16:45.2 and lead the Tigers to first out of 31 teams.

“My previous best was 17:22 here at this same meet last year so it’s full circle for me,” Errington said. “I started my freshman year, so I’m still early in my running journey but with experience I’ve started figuring things out, like how to trust my training, trust my coach and eliminate distractions. My mindset was good today. I hate being outkicked and I was out in front, but I was 100% ready to make a big move if I needed it.”

Perhaps no one all weekend built a bigger lead at the beginning than Granada Hills sophomore Samantha Pacheco, who opened a 12-second gap on the other 199 runners a mile into the Blue Varsity B race and beat Millikan 10th-grader Nadia Mejia by nearly four seconds in 17:43.4.

“I got here super-late … my dad dropped me off just in time for me to warm up and make it to the starting line,” said the 15-year-old Pacheco, who clocked a personal-best 17:26 a week before at Rosemead. “I didn’t realize I was so far ahead but I glanced back after the first mile and saw that the next girl was a little ways back. I was wary of someone catching me, but I’m thrilled I won.”

Pacheco did not have the grades to compete in the postseason last year but has since gotten a tutor and has not only improved in the classroom, but on the course. For several years now Granada Hills and Palisades have battled it out for the City Section title and both schools were in the race. The Highlanders finished four spots lower, but Pacheco was well ahead of the Dolphins’ top two runners, Louisa Mammen (18:32.5) and Kyra Morris (18:37.2), who placed 17th and 18th respectively.

“That was a big motivator,” Pacheco said. “I was aware they were in the race and it was good to show that Granada Hills is still the competition for Palisades.”

Oak Park junior Katarina Modrzejewski, who took up running her freshman year while training to make the soccer team, held off Audrey Thiel of Littleton (Colo.) Arapahoe to win the Gold Varsity A race by three-tenths of a second in 17:42.4.

“I didn’t want to get kicked off [the soccer team] so I was trying to build up my conditioning and in the process I fell in love with running,” said Modrzejewski, who ran the rated race at Woodbridge last year and finished 49th in 18:10.7. “I was doing the walk-through and I was confused because the first mile is a lot different than last year. My coach wanted me to stay in the first group — at first I held back because I didn’t know the course ran well. Sometimes I get too stressed, but my coach said, ’Let’s go!’ and I sprinted until the end.”

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