WALNUT — Mel Silva, coach of the Saddleback boys' cross-country team, was surprisingly calm after the Roadrunners won the Division I-AA championship in the Southern Section finals Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
"We came here to win a CIF championship, and we accepted what we had to do," said Silva, whose team finished second last year. "Our team is more experienced this year, so I didn't need to hold my breath about whether we would win or not."
Saddleback, which won with 41 points, also qualified for next Saturday's state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno by finishing second overall in state Division I behind Hart. Channel Islands was second (68) and Santa Ana Valley third (71). Santa Ana Valley finished fifth in Division I state qualifying and failed to advance by one place.
In Division I-A, El Toro, which turned in a mediocre performance in last week's preliminaries, came close to defeating top-ranked Hart but lost, 53-68. The Chargers finished third in the state Division I race to qualify.
Saddleback senior Eddie Salinas finished 10th in 16 minutes and 6 seconds over the hilly and demanding three-mile Mt. SAC course. Teammates John Ochoa (16th, 16:25), Joey Heredia (20th, 16:29), Albert Ochoa (21st, 16:30) and Albert Acevez (28th, 16:42) rounded out the Roadrunners' top five.
Dana Hills senior Daniel Niednagel, who barely missed a state meet berth last season, ran the fastest time for county boys, placing third in the I-A race in 15:27 behind Arroyo Grande's Louie Quintana (14:43), the best runner in the state, and Dave Hartman of Canyon Country Canyon (15:07).
"I'm real ecstatic with my place and qualifying," Niednagel said, "but my times haven't been good. I really thought I was running a good race the first mile and a half, and when I rounded the corner to the finish, I thought I'd see a time of 15:10 or 15:15."
Edison's Shelley Taylor, who beat Westlake's Jeannie Rothman in last season's 4-A section final, found Rothman too tough this year in the Division II girls' race. Taylor, a junior, won the II-AA individual championship in 17:54 while finishing second overall to Rothman (17:27). Katella's Martha Pinto was third (18:05) and Woodbridge's Kay Nekota was fourth (18:08).
"I'm happy, but I knew I could beat Martha, and I wanted to beat Jeannie really bad," said Taylor, who fell behind Rothman before the two-mile mark, going up Poop-Out Hill. "Right when she (Rothman) went up Poop-Out, I knew that was it, because I wasn't feeling good enough to go after her."
The La Habra boys won the section II-A championship and qualified for state by finishing third behind Agoura and Camarillo in Division II.
In girls' races, Canyon, led by freshman Kim Nelson, won the II-AA team title and qualified for state by finishing third behind Westlake and Woodbridge in Division II. Foothill's girls won the III-AA section title and finished second behind San Marino in state qualifying.
The Tustin girls qualified for the state meet in Division II. Other county qualifiers included girls' teams from Irvine, Corona del Mar, Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran and the Corona del Mar boys. Corona del Mar advanced when Laguna Hills' Chris Lynch, fifth with 100 yards left, fell down because of exhaustion and finished 62nd. The Hawks were seventh overall. Individuals Mike Love of Katella, Tanja Brix of University, Sonja Hildebrand of Mission Viejo and Katy Eklof of Costa Mesa also qualified.