Immanuel High girls head up region’s cross country

Eagles return nearly entire roster from team that that rolled to section Division V championship, add talented freshman in bid for state title

Clara Riddle, who won the Central Section Division V individual championship and placed 10th in the state as a freshman, leads a talented Immanuel High squad into the 2023 season. She’s pictured here sprinting toward the finish line at the D-V state meet in November 2022. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published August 31, 2023  • 
9:30 am

REEDLEY – This year, the team to watch among Mid Valley Times region cross country programs is an obvious one – the Immanuel High girls.

The Eagles rolled to the Central Section Division V championship in 2022, and then finished seventh at the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) State Meet, led by then-freshman Clara Riddle and an underclass-dominated roster. 

Now, the team has grown from eight runners to 11, with the addition of a talented freshman, and has all top runners returning except for senior Sydney Friesen, who is concentrating on running hurdles in track and field this spring. Second year head coach Connor Nolen said that, in his opinion, this year’s team is one of the strongest small school teams in the history of the section.

Immanuel High’s girls cross country team, the reigning Central Section Division V champions, have the potential to become one of the top girls cross country teams ever in the section according to coach Connor Nolen. (Jon Earnest)

“I think that the Division five section team time record is something that is a realistic goal for these girls,” he said. “They’re a very talented group, and they’re hard-working and we’re excited for what’s next beyond the section.”

Sophomore Riddle, who won the section crown in 19 minutes, 10.80 seconds over 5,000 meters and then bettered that time by 26 seconds at the state meet, leads the way with fellow soph Lexi Schartmann (sixth in section, 76th in state). Other top returning runners are senior Gaby Ramirez (11th, 93rd), senior Sarah Larger (eighth in section), senior Macie Riddle (16th section) and sophomore Camila Lupa (25th section).

Added to all that is incoming freshman Ainsley Jackson from Kingsburg and sophomore Emily Thomas, both of whom will “help out a lot” according to Nolen. The team has a rigorous and dedicated running workout schedule covering a variety of conditions.

“I view it as, ‘this is year two;’ we’re following (up) what we started,’ he said. “We’re just riding the wave of success that has fortunately been coming our way, and these girls are just incredible.”

In addition, the boys team will battle defending champion Reedley in the Tri-County Conference this fall, after placing third last season and then third in D-5 section. Sophomores Reid Bishel and Koen Ensz had top 10 finishes and qualified for the state meet while sophomore Lucas Guzman also shined in league and section competition.

“We added a new freshman this year, Noah Stumpfhauser; he’ll be one of the top five and one of the top freshmen in our section,” Nolen said. “We should be a level up from last year and they want to qualify for the state meet as a team this year.”

The Eagles will get valuable experience and top state quality competition at the 42nd annual Woodbridge Classic in Southern California on Sept. 15-16 as well as the annual Asics Clovis Invitational on Oct. 7. As always Fresno’s Woodward Park is the site of the section championships (Thursday, Nov. 16) and the CIF State Championships (Saturday, Nov. 25).

Here is a look at other region cross country programs:

Sanger — The Apaches are reigning County Metro Athletic Conference champions for both varsity boys and girls, and the boys squad returns the bulk of the team that dominated the CMAC (Community Media Access Collaborative).

Junior Sawyer Pugliese and senior Daniel Galvez placed one-two at the conference meet, and Pugliese followed with a sixth place finish at the section Division 1 meet. Other top returning runners are senior Gerardo Zuniga, junior Gabriel Rivera, sophomore Robert Topete and junior Anthony Cortez. Sophomore Javier Rojas-Gutierrez moves up this year after capturing the CMAC junior varsity title.

Sanger High junior Sawyer Pugliese, pictured at the 2022 Central Section Division I meet where he finished in sixth place, is the reigning County Metro Athletic Conference champion. He and senior Daniel Galvez placed one-two at the CMAC meet. (Jon Earnest)

For the girls, CMAC champ Leah Mendibles has graduated but sophomore Kinsley Allen returns after finishing second in league and 25th in the section D-1 meet. Junior Alex Vaca placed seventh and 30th, respectively, last season while junior Alayna Altaffer finished 12th and 43rd.

Sanger will host the annual Sanger Invitational at Avocado Park north of Sanger on Friday, Sept. 8.

Reedley — The Pirates won the TCC varsity boys crown and graduated champion Jacob Diaz along with top 12 finishers Samuel Mendoza and Axel Duenas. But they’ll make a strong repeat bid with a nucleus led by the Mitchell brothers, junior Brett (fourth in TCC) and sophomore Luke (14th) while sophomores Joel Mendoza and Moses Quevedo also return with varsity experience.

For the girls, top runners Araceli Villarreal and Yasmin Sinchi Gutierrez have graduated. Picking up the slack are returning varsity runners in sophomore Alyssa Torres, junior Lizbeth Franquiz, junior Eva Luevano-Leyva and senior Jasmine Brown.

Reedley High girls run in the early stages of the 2022 Central Section Division III race, and will look to challenge for a top three finish in the Tri-County Conference. Top returning runners are sophomore Alyssa Torres (26th at TCC meet), junior Lizbeth Franquiz (33rd in TCC) and junior Eva Luevano-Leyva (38th). (Jon Earnest)

The Pirates will host their annual Cam Ostrand Invitational meet on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Reedley College track and riverside course.

Dinuba — The Emperor boys will try to contend for the upper half of the West Yosemite League defending champ Tulare Western graduated five of its top six runners. Leading the way is junior Felipe Suarez and senior Adolfo Collado who placed ninth and 10th. Sophomores Jordan Harp and Raul Precido also gained varsity experience.

For the girls, junior Kenia De Jesus and upcoming freshman runners Gisele Duarte and Mia Valdez are among the six runners in the program.

Sanger West — The Hornets boys have seven runners, led by junior John Archuleta who placed 61st in the Division IV section race. For the girls, junior Aviana Martinez finished 45th in the section D-IV race.

Small Schools — The premier runner among the region’s smaller schools is Parlier High’s Evan Torres. The senior finished second in the section Division IV race in a time of 16:13.76, then bettered that time by 22 seconds to place 20th in state.

Parlier High’s Evan Torres enters his senior season coming off a second place Central Section finish and 20th place state showing in Division IV. Torres is pictured at the state meet, where he turned in a time of 15 minutes, 51.8 seconds, 22 seconds better than his section meet time for 5,000 meters. (Jon Earnest)

Orange Cove sophomore Maurico Herrera placed 10th at the East Sequoia League meet while Orosi sophomore Antonio Cortez finished 24th. The annual Orange Cove Titan Invitational will be held on Friday Sept. 15 at Reedley Sports Park.

Jon Earnest
Reporter