Previewing Top Races Heading Into ASICS Clovis Invitational

* Runners take off from the start line last year at Clovis

Photo Credit: Marie Marheineke/MileSplit

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For years, the Clovis Invitational has seen some of the country's greatest prep stars chase records and titles at Woodward Park.

This Saturday will be no different, as California's best will be getting another pre-postseason look at the same athletes they'll be facing in the national postseason over the next few months. 

Below, we break down everything to watch this Saturday. 

* Hanne Thomsen wins the Championship Girls race at the 2022 Clovis Invitational

Photo Credit: Dan Tyree/MileSplit

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A year ago, Hanne Thomsen surprised a lot of people after dismantling the championship field at Woodward Park. Thomsen, who was only a sophomore at the time, managed to put 24 seconds between her and the best runners in California.

Leading up to Clovis, the sophomore had been vocal about her excitement to compete one-on-one with Ventura ace Sadie Engelhardt, but due to a bad cold, Ventura opted to rest her body, leaving Thomsen without the elite competition she had anticipated.

Despite that fact, much of the race turned into a solo effort, with the Montgomery underclassmen dropping a time of 17:04. It was the seventh-fastest performance in meet history.

Luckily for Thomsen (and fans), the battle for the crown is slated to be must-watch racing again, as Thomsen will get just her fifth head-to-head matchup with Engelhardt this Saturday. 

That won't be all, though. Phenomenal athletes such as Payton GodseyRylee Blade and Chiara Dailey will also be joining in on the fun. 

Here's a look at how each athlete's seasons have gone leading into the Clovis Invitational, and why they are all contenders. 

Championship Girls Individuals Preview

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Hanne Thomsen, Montgomery (CA)

For starters, she's the defending champ. Thomsen has picked up two wins so far this season, along with a fifth-place finish at Woodbridge, where she shattered her previous 3-mile best by 42 seconds. In her most recent win at the Windsor vs. Montgomery dual meet, she cruised to a 30-second victory, her second-largest margin of victory this fall. It's proven that Thomsen can run fast regardless of the presence of competition and Saturday will be a great opportunity to chase the win and a fast time against the field. 

Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura (CA)

Last month at Woodbridge, Engelhardt was California's top finisher in her season debut, where she clocked 15:37.40 for a five-second improvement from her performance in 2022. It also happened to be a lifetime best and just her second-ever time running under 16:00. Though she's only raced twice as a junior, her 66-second win at Channel League and her finish at Woodbridge, along with her proven track record, the Ventura Cougar is set up nicely to show the strides she continues to make. 

Payton Godsey, Oaks Christian (CA)

As a junior, Godsey had a less-than-deal showing at Clovis for her standards, finishing 25th in 18:20.5. However, the rest of her season showed nothing but resilience, as she won four out of her next five races, two of which were the CIF-SS D4 title and the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country National Championships. This season, Godsey won the Marmonte League #1 in early September and finished 15th at Woodbridge in 16:24.10. Keep an eye on Godsey as she looks to avenge her 2022 finish. 

Rylee Blade, Santiago Corona (CA)

Just like the rest of this list, Blade has raced seldomly this season, racing just twice last month. She kicked off her junior campaign with a win at the Cool Breeze Invitational, crossing the line in 16:30. It took 54 seconds for the next athletes to cross the finish. Two weeks later, she finished fourth at Woodbridge; she was the second-fastest Californian behind Engelhardt. Running 15:42, Blade sliced 57 seconds off her previous 3-mile best and seems ready to do the something similar to her 5K best, which is 17:36.47 from last year's state championship. 

Chiara Dailey, La Jolla (CA)

The lone sophomore on this list has raced more than her competition this fall, winning the Eastern League Cluster #1, CCA Ravens Invitational and the Bronco Roundup. Sprinkled in between her victories was an eighth-place finish at Woodbridge, where she was fastest California sophomore and snuck under 16:00 in 15:58.60. After a freshman season that a lot of athletes would dream of, Dailey has the chance to show the upperclassmen what she's made of.

Championship Girls Team Preview

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* The JSerra Catholic girls team were runner-up at the 2023 Woodbridge Invitational

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/MileSplit

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Last month at the Woodbridge Invitational, two of the nation's juggernauts went toe-to-toe, as JSerra Catholic got their first glimpse of Buchanan.

The Lions and Bears each found themselves on the podium, but JSerra handily took care of Buchanan 146-196. There were a multitude of factors that led to JSerra's victory, but one that needs to be addressed is the perfection that is their pack running.

Led by Brynn Garcia (16:48) in 31st, the trio of Summer Wilson (16:56), Kaylah Tasser (17:00) and Anne Elise Packard (17:02) went 39-42-43, with freshman Reese Holley (17:14) in 59th to round out the scoring for Chase Frazier's squad.

It took just 25 seconds for those five to all cross the line, one of the best splits in the country. The dagger in their win, however, was the fact they were able to squeeze all five of their scoring runners in before Buchanan's number three. Even with the stifling pack time displayed by JSerra week in and week out, even remotely counting out Buchanan would be criminal.

At Woodbridge, they were led by their low-stick junior in Elliana Lomeli (16:31), and if their finish there was of any indication, they have the potential to close the gap on their in-state foe. After Lomeli crossed, it was a lengthy 36 seconds before Sierra Cornett (17:07) made her way through the finish. After that, it only took 14 seconds for the final three scoring runners to finish, with Kynzlee Buckley (17:16), Avery Hutchison (17:17) and Molly Sundgren (17:21) putting together a fierce pack of their own.

For this squad to pull JSerra in closer, their best plan of action would be to get Buckley, Hutchinson and Sundgren as close to Cornett as they possibly can, but we can imagine they didn't need us to write this article for them to come up with that.

Regardless, these two incredible programs will get the chance to go head-to-head once again and battle for the reigns of 'The Golden State'.

As the battle for first and second is transpiring, the battle for third will be just as exciting, with Santiago Corona, Dana Hills and Ventura looking to throw their name into the conversation in their own right.

Championship Boys Individuals Preview

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* Evan Noonan of Dana Hills won the 2023 Woodbridge Invitational

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/MileSplit

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Evan Noonan, Dana Hills (CA)

The boys race is going to be just as action-packed as the girls and Evan Noonan is a key reason as to why. Last month -- like the majority of the Clovis field -- Noonan took his talents to Great Park. It was nearly a record-setting day for the junior, coming within three seconds of Leo Young's national 3-mile record that he set just two years ago.

Noonan still had himself quite the day, running 13:41.20, surpassing the rest of the legendary athletes that have traversed that course. Following his impressive victory, Noonan finished runner-up at the Bob Firman Invitational, setting another PR in the 5,000m in 14:55.7. The junior is in the midst of a breakout season and it's looking like the Clovis Invitational is next up on the list.

Anthony Fast Horse, Ventura (CA)

The senior finished runner-up to Noonan at Woodbridge and now has the chance to get some sweet revenge this Saturday. After running 13:48.10 last month, Fast Horse got himself into the win column two weeks later at the Channel League #1, coasting through to a 47-second win and with a controlled 15:10.9. The Ventura superstar is also having himself quite the senior send-off, running at an even higher level than he was in 2022. With another loaded field and plenty of high caliber competition, Fast Horse has the stage set for yet another strong performance.

Emmanuel Perez, Cathedral (CA)

Just like the other two seniors on this list, Perez had the race of his life at Woodbridge, running 13:50.70 to take third overall, a whopping 56-second jump from his junior year effort. Unlike Noonan and Fast Horse, Perez has opted to take some time to simply train hard leading up to this weekend and will race for the first time in three weeks at Clovis. Perez is no stranger to the course at Woodward Park, as he finished fourth a year ago in 15:30.60 -- though he later won his Division IV title on the same course. In his third go-around on this course, Perez is certainly a name to keep in mind as the race unfolds.

Joshua Bell, Templeton (CA)

At Woodbridge, there were six boys who found themselves running into the 13s and Bell was the sixth and final one to accomplish the coveted feat. Running 13:59.60, it was his first time under 14 minutes and a great display of the improvement he's shown since the end of the season last fall. With a berth at the Champs National Championships (now back to Foot Locker) last year and a 14:49 5K on the track, Bell is reaping the rewards of consistent and rigid training and is now looking to join the sub-15 club on the grass.

Championship Boys Team Preview

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* The Great Oak boys finished 3rd at the 2023 Woodbridge Invitational

Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/MileSplit

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In a podium finish that saw two out-of-state teams finish first and second, it was Great Oak (CA) who finished as the top California team, with Ventura (CA) and San Clemente (CA) closing out the top three in-state schools.

For Great Oak, the extra push that led them over the rest of was the low-stick duo of Westin Brown (14:09) and Gabriel Rodriguez (14:11) who finished in ninth and 13th. The trio of Jacob Brown (14:48) , Kai Marotta (14:49) and Jack Paradise (14:52) rounded out the scoring for the Wolfpack, putting together a 43-second pack time. If they can maintain a similar spread again this weekend, or even narrow it to under 40 seconds, they remain the team to beat. 

The one key advantage that Ventura has over nearly everyone else is that they have Fast Horse, who is almost guaranteed to score less than three points, which certainly helps their case in such a large field of teams.

After Fast Horse, it took roughly 50 seconds for the next guy donning Ventura's signature gold and black singlet to finish, though it didn't take long for all five to cross the line. Placing 55th, 57th and 65th, the senior trio of Micah Grossman (14:41), Hollis Costa (14:42) and Henry Hammel (14:48) were just seven seconds in-between one another and sophomore Noah Sloan only needed 10 more seconds to join his teammates, finishing 93rd in 14:58.

With only 24 points separating Great Oak and Ventura a month ago, a great showing could be enough to close the gap even further. 

San Clemente is in a similar spot as Ventura, with Brett Ephraim acting as their single-digit scorer, after he ran 14:06 at Woodbridge for a seventh-place finish. Thirty-two seconds later, Taj Clark crossed in 14:38, with Pierce Clark and Dallin Harrington close behind in 14:44 and 14:51. Kai Olsen (15:09) was the final scoring runner for the Tritons, making it a 51-59-71-112 finish for San Clemente, resulting in a 24-point deficit between each cross country power.

However, through each team's first four runners, there is only a seven-point difference, meaning if Olsen can close the gap just a little bit on the Triton trio, then there could be a switch-up compared to the results we saw last month. 

All-in-all, it seems that for now, Great Oak is the team with the target on their back, but both Ventura and San Clemente have the pieces to throw together an upset bid and take the trophy for themselves. The No. 7, No. 11 and No. 22 teams in the MileSplit50 Rankings will have the chance to re-write those rankings in their own words, but it will take elite performances from each to propel the teams to where they want to go.


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* The Medium Division Girls race gets ready to start at the 2022 Clovis Invitational

Photo Credit: Marie Marheineke/MileSplit

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Here are a few things to know if you're planning on watching the meet in-person or if are looking to keep up the results via virtual results. The meet kicks off bright and early at 7:15 a.m. Saturday morning, with 16 races taking place through 1:20 p.m. The meet itself takes place at Woodward Park in Fresno, CA, and it's $5 per vehicle for spectators. If it makes it easier, it's the same venue that hosts the CIF State Championships. You can find the live results here, and more meet information here

Below is a schedule of Saturday's racing. 

7:15 a.m.Division MGirls
7:40 a.m.Division SGirls
8:05 a.m.Division MBoys
8:25 a.m. Division SBoys
8:55 a.m.Bull Buettner ChampionshipGirls
9:30 a.m.Bull Buettner ChampionshipBoys
9:50 a.m.Division XLGirls
10:15 a.m.Division LGirls
10:40 a.m.Division XLBoys
11:00 a.m.Division LBoys
11:20 a.m.Division S & M Fresh/SophBoys
11:40 a.m.Division S, M, & Lg. JVBoys
12:00 p.m.All Division Fresh/SophGirls
12:25 p.m.All Division JVGirls
12:55 p.m. Division XL/Championship JVBoys
1:20 p.m.Division XL & Lg. Fresh/SophBoys