Junior Liza Pasciuto of Murrieta Valley spat as she passed the two-mile mark in the Division I girls' race of the Southern Section cross-country championships at Mount San Antonio College on Saturday.
That is not an unusual occurrence for a runner in a cross-country race. But Pasciuto's action was a symbolic one because she had collapsed shortly before the two-mile mark in the Division I final at Mt. SAC last year.
"It was my way of saying I was going to make it," Pasciuto said after winning her first section title to lead Murrieta Valley to its first section championship. "Last year was in the back of my mind, but I tried not to worry about it."
Murrieta Valley finished a disappointing 11th in last year's section final without Pasciuto, but the Nighthawks beat runner-up Thousand Oaks, 70-102, on Saturday.
"It feels so great," Pasciuto said after running 17 minutes 38 seconds over the 2.91-mile course. "[Winning this race] was one of the goals we had set for ourselves at the start of the season."
Freshman Karen Camburn finished fifth in 18:09 for Murrieta Valley, the No. 14-ranked team in the nation, which also received 17th- and 18th-place finishes from seniors Bonghabih Shey and Rachel Corrington.
There were several other outstanding performances in the meet that determined the section's team and individual qualifiers for the state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno next Saturday.
Hesperia Sultana, the No. 3-ranked girls' team in the nation, won its third Division II title in five years with a 46-119 victory over Irvine Woodbridge. Freshman Danielle Varela and junior Kelsey Delagardelle of Sultana finished first and second with times of 17:40 and 17:58, respectively.
Michael Poe of Etiwanda and Los Angeles Loyola turned in dominant victories in the Division I boys' race, and Phillip Reid of Oxnard Rio Mesa won a classic duel with Michael Haddan of Woodbridge in the Division II final.
Poe, a senior, was at the front of the pack after a 4:51 first mile. But he broke open the race shortly thereafter as he headed up the switchbacks and finished in 14:48.
Loyola won Division III titles in 1984 and 85, but the Cubs' 80-124 victory over Dana Point Dana Hills gave them their first title since moving to the Division I level in 1987.
Reid, a senior, broke away from Haddan shortly before two miles and then held off a late charge by the Woodbridge junior to win in 14:43.
-- John Ortega
One week after running what she called her "worst race ever," Belen Mendoza of Sun Valley Poly ran the best race of her life at Pierce College to win the City Section girls' cross-country championship by 23 seconds.
The Parrots' senior finished in a personal-best 18:14, running the three-mile course 1:11 faster than her preliminary time and 35 seconds faster than her previous best time of 18:49, which she ran in a Sunset Six League meet last year.
"Last week I was preoccupied with SATs, studying and college applications, so my mind wasn't really there," Mendoza said.
Freshman Megan Adams of San Pedro was second in 18:27 to lead the Pirates to their second consecutive title and third in four years.
San Pedro claimed its second boys' title and first under fifth-year Coach Bruce Thomson, accumulating 51 points to beat Monroe (73) and seven-time defending champion Belmont (91), which had won 17 of the previous 20 team titles.
-- Steve Galluzzo