* Newbury Park's Colin Sahlman won a national title on Saturday at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships
Photo Credit: Chris Wells/MileSplit
HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA -- Believe.
Believe that this is the best team we've ever seen. Believe that on this day, we saw something new and thrilling and unlike anything we've ever seen before in high school cross country. And believe that it didn't start with one moment, one specific thing that created this legacy, that it began the moment when the Newbury Park boys, the No. 1 team in the nation in 2021, started to realize their potential, when they chased it and lived every day like the next would bring even more.
Believe. Even if you weren't there on Saturday at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships, believe that history can be made anytime and anywhere, by anyone willing enough to do all the little things necessary to achieve that mission.
Newbury Park showed the nearly 5,000 or more spectators this weekend at John Hunt Park just what greatness looked like, and they did so in the form of three all-time records for 5K, ushering in a new way of history for any team looking to now chase after that same dream.
Panthers senior Colin Sahlman won the overall race on Saturday in 14:03.29, a new all-time best for 5K in cross country, following by teammates Leo Young, who went 14:05.07 -- second best all-time -- and Lex Young, who is now third-best in history with a time of 14:05.59.
"We knew where we had to push and what we had to do," Sahlman said. "We came out here. Aaron here was leading it. For the most part, he put on surges right where he needed to and that helped the whole team. I'm super proud of this team. It was an amazing day for all of us."
Just a week after scoring just 16 points at the California Interscholastic Federation Division I State Championships, Newbury Park scored 29 points, with junior Aaron Sahlman following the team's scoring in fourth -- he was sixth overall in 14:14.38 -- and senior Daniel Appleford coming in fifth, closing in 42nd in 14:44.92.
All seven of the team's runners went under 15 minutes on the day. The Panthers followed their remarkable 14:40 average at the California state championships with a 5K average of 14:14.
"I feel like every time I say something, people are like, 'Ah, that's too fast.' But I'm telling you, I'm with these guys every day. I know what they're capable of, they know what they're capable of," Newbury Park head coach Sean Brosnan said. "And they believe it. And it's pretty awesome."
On Saturday, the Newbury Park boys program won its second national title in a row and its second in three years after the 2020 race was split between two factions: the NSAF Meet of Champions, which the Panthers won, and the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships, with debuted a year ago.
This time around, there was no doubt. Over 300 runners and 20 of the nation's top 25 teams were in the championship race. The Panthers nearly defeated No. 2 Cheyenne Mountain by 100 points. The team standings followed with CM in second with 121 points, while Portland Jesuit was third with 187, Union Catholic was fourth with 281 and Grapevine was fifth with 284.
The first three teams across the line finished with averages of 15 minutes: Newbury Park (14:14), Cheyenne Mountain (14:49) and Portland Jesuit (14:59).
The top all-time junior time was set on Saturday by Leo Young. Union Catholic's Jimmy Wischusen also clocked the fastest sophomore performance ever in 14:33.94. A series of state records also went down across the United States, too.
I'm with these guys every day. I know what they're capable of, they know what they're capable of. And they believe it. And it's pretty awesome." -- Sean Brosnan
The top five runners in the championship race were chasing the win in the final stages, and perhaps Bergen was the closest toward dethroning this team of superstars. But it was then, in the final sprint, when the Panthers showed just why they're so feared.
Sahlman and Leo Young and Lex Young showed that indefatigable spirit and began to wind-up, fascinating the thousands of fans who had cleared rows and rows of spots along the finishing chutes. Bergen got dropped in those final few seconds.
"That energy was insane. That's like nothing I've ever seen before," Lex Young said. "There were people like two, three deep on all sides of us, almost the entire time. That's insane. The volume of it and the excitement. That really helps fuel. A lot of people don't realize it."
A handful of the nation's top coaches from NCAA Division I colleges were also on hand to take in the sight, including factions from Stanford, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Harvard and Alabama, among others.
"It confirms how great these guys are," Brosnan said. "This could be that team that we talk about for a long, long time. It was a special day. Losing NXN was hard for us. As a team, that's always our goal. That's where we want to be our best. And I think we were our best today. That was pretty awesome."
The day was a shocking revelation of distance running.
After 32 boys broke 15 minutes on this course a year ago, that number more than doubled, with 72 athletes breaking the mark in the championship race. Another four topped it in the silver race.
Athletes from nearly ever state competed on Saturday, with runners also coming from Ontario, Canada.
"Honestly, on a dry day, they would have been under 14 minutes," Brosnan said. "I have three guys who can run in the 13:30s, 13:40s, low 40s."
The glaring normalcy of this team, though, was perhaps what shined through the most. That these were just California boys. Young men with long blond hair. Teammates who talked about music playlists in their free time and debated on sports.
The togetherness was evident. From pre-race on Friday, when the entire boys and girls teams shook out on the course and split their strides in tandem, to Saturday, when the team's converged afterward, the nearly 20-plus runners milling about. Despite welcoming in the kind of rock star imagery that follows any historic team -- a video crew, in fact, was following the team for most of the weekend -- Newbury Park felt like a high school running team. Not some inaccessible program.
"These guys were really mentally tough all year," Brosnan said. "And they took a lot of criticism, too. I think it shows how mature they are."