La Serna runners celebrate a season of redemption
WHITTIER — It was a record-breaking year for the 2019 La Serna boys cross country team, as they came home with their first Del Rio League title in over 25 years.
But that wasn’t the end of the postseason for the team. The team concluded its banner season with a school record, first-time trip to the CIF State Meet and finished 12th.
Highlighting the season was a Clovis Invitational XL Division Championship, which included a 5K school record of 1:20:26 (the sum of the top five runners times), a sixth place finish in the CIF-Southern Section Division I Finals and a team 3-mile school record (1:16:26) in the Del Rio League Finals.
Individually, senior Jerry Baltzer set two school records: 3-mile (14:54.5) and 5K (15:35.2), was the DRL champion, received All CIF honors and finished 14th at the CIF-SS Finals.
“This group has set the standard of CIF-SS Finals,” La Serna Cross Country coach Joe Orr said. “Coming into the season I knew we had a strong team with four varsity returners from the 2018 squad (Baltzer, Aidan Arredondo, Chase Bradshaw and Tony Becerra).”
The 2018 team missed the chance to be the first La Serna group to qualify for state, finishing eighth in the Division I Final.
“To make things worse, the team just ahead of (La Serna) by a miniscule 15 points was league rival Cal High,” added Orr. “That was a tough pill to swallow. The bitter taste of missing the big show, by what amounted to each of the scorers running one second faster, was the fuel that fired this years’ squad to work as hard as they did.”
Orr, who teaches math at La Serna, knew he had a strong staff but was going to need additional help to match the 2018 team’s accomplishments.
Two transfers from Pioneer High were just what the doctor ordered, along with a JV runner from the La Serna squad.
That help came in the form of senior transfers Nathaniel Estrada and Marcelo Martinez and JV athlete Daniel Enriquez, who stepped up.
“The start of the 2019 season was far from impressive,” Orr said. “It wasn’t quite the storybook start to the season.”
Both Arredondo and Becerra were working through injuries and the two transfers had to sit out the required 30 days.
Mid-season is where it all began to come together for the Lancer runners.
Orr, who is in his second stint as coach, has only had a group of runners from their freshman year to their senior year and this year’s team was special.
The team had its breakout performance at the Clovis Invitational at Woodward Park in Fresno, where Baltzer set the 5K record. That led to dominating performances in the first two Del Rio League clusters, which built up confidence heading into the league finals.
A decisive 23-44 result, which was led by all five La Serna scorers, gained a decisive win over a strong Cal team.
Next came the CIF competition.
“A fourth place finish secured a spot into the Finals for the third year in a row, giving the boys a shot at earning a spot to the CIF State Finals for the first time in school history,” Orr explained. “As we headed into the finals. the thoughts of last year’s finish was fresh on the minds of the team. But this year the story would have a much different ending.
“The Lancer seven came away with a 6th place finish and a ticket to the State Championships.”
The CIF State Championships were held over the Thanksgiving weekend and it was a “dream trip for the boys.”
Baltzer and Arredondo performed particularly well, finishing 54 and 55 in a race of 180 of the states’ best runners.
“Jerry (Baltzer) is just a quality kid,” Orr said. “My leader and a top athlete.
“Aidan is an awesome kid and a workhorse who fell in love with the sport. He tends to find a way to have his best race when we needed him to.”
Orr continued to praise his championship team:
Enriquez: “He continued to grow and impress and earned his spot.”
Martinez: “A consistent runner and was solid in team scoring.”
Bradshaw: “He never thought he would be a big contributor, but he fully became a good one.
“And both Becerra and Estrada are both true middle distance guys.”
Three other guys that worked their way in during the year were senior Esteban Berrera, his brother, sophomore Andres Berrera and sophomore Mark Bermejo.
“The two sophomores are top returners and have big shoes to fill,” Orr added.
Six of the seven seniors will compete at the next level, with three of them – Baltzer, Arredondo and Estrada – all going to Orr’s alma mater, NCAA Division II Biola University, under the coaching of Sean Henning.
Becerra will run for three-time CCCAA State Champion Mt. SAC, while Martinez and Enriquez will run for the University of La Verne and Lewis & Clark University, respectively.
A seventh runner, Bradshaw, will follow his academic dream of going to Chico State and follow his sister, which is a cross country power house. He is seeking an opportunity to try out and walk on with their team.
What they said:
Arredondo: “We worked so hard these past four years and the addition of Marcelo (Martinez) and Nathaniel (Estrada) this year was big.
“We wanted to be in the shoes of Cal and win league and set the standard for the next runners and the future. State was on my birthday and I wished for that and it was a dream come true.
“Going to Biola with the three of us is going to be a great experience and will create camaraderie. We will go beyond our limits.”
Enriquez: “It felt special to beat Cal and win league. It felt so good for us to run all four years together.
“I ran my best race in the CIF Finals prior to state and all of us put in so much work and hope the next runners will carry that on in the future.
Note: Enriquez said he had so much momentum in the final stages of the CIF Division I final race, that he passed the fifth Cal runner, which put La Serena in position for a state berth. “I let it all out at the end.”
Baltzer: “That (State) was everything, especially with my best friends. An experience like no other. It was so good to have that experience. It was just amazing.
“Last year, they (Cal high) headed to state and we were all very humbled. This year, brotherhood is what got us to state.
“I feel like our coach (Orr) wanted us to be that brotherhood. We really respect him and he treats us like family. We were all wishing him a happy Fathers Day, because he is amazing.
As for Biola, Baltzer said, “I feel like the three of us will bring a lot of energy to Biola.”