Although it is early in the season, Ian Alsen and Craig Lawson of Granada Hills High are running faster than they ever did in 1986. On Saturday, the Highlander duo placed first and second at the Los Angeles County Cross-Country Championships at College of the Canyons.
Alsen, the 1986 City Section runner-up, was timed in 15 minutes, 42 seconds over the rugged three-mile course and junior teammate Lawson clocked 15:56. Powered by their 1-2 finish, Granada Hills placed third in the boys sweepstakes race with 58 points.
Arroyo High of El Monte, the top-ranked team in the state by the International Sports Exchange, scored 43 points to win, placing five runners among the top 14.
Antelope Valley, the No. 5-ranked team in the Southern Section's 4-A Division, placed second with 52 points and Canyon, the No. 8-ranked team in the 4-A, placed fourth with 69 points.
Alsen, who placed fourth (16:07) in last year's county championships, used that experience as motivation.
"I didn't run very well here last year," Alsen said. "I didn't run a smart race. I went out too slow. I wanted to run better today."
Alsen controlled the race from the beginning. He and Arroyo's Jaime Ortega set the pace before Alsen opened up a five-yard lead at the one-mile mark.
At two miles, Alsen accelerated and Ortega had to let go, trailing his rival by 20 yards with Lawson an additional 30 yards back.
As Alsen cruised toward victory, Lawson stalked Ortega, passing the latter with less than 200 meters remaining.
"I haven't seen Craig outkick anyone in a long time," Granada Hills Coach Bob Augello said afterward. "He really wanted to beat him."
Ortega's third-place time was 15:59. Mike Rattary of Canyon placed fourth in 16:02.
Although Alsen's victory looked easy, the soft-spoken senior said it was not.
"I felt good," he said. "I felt like I was in control for most of the race, but it wasn't easy.
"This course is very demanding. It's very hilly. It takes a lot out of you."
The victory was Alsen's third in a row. He won the Bell-Jeff Invitational in September and ran a personal best of 14:49 over Pierce College's three-mile course two weeks ago.
"I'm pleased with where I'm at," he said. "I feel very strong right now."
Next Saturday, he'll put his win streak on the line at the Mt. SAC Invitational, where he will race Agoura standout Bryan Dameworth. Dameworth is working on a string of eight victories, his latest coming Friday in the Ventura County championships.
Alsen and Dameworth split two races over the summer. Dameworth won the all-comers cross-country championships at Pierce and Alsen won the Westlake 5K on Labor Day.