Belmont's cross-country program regains its championship form

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

In the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, there are schools known for their historic success in specific sports. Crenshaw in basketball. Palisades in tennis. And Belmont in cross-country.

“We’re back on the map,” Belmont coach Roman Gomez said on a cloudless Saturday morning in Woodland Hills, where the Sentinels won their 20th City Section boys’ cross-country title.

In the 1980s, when Gomez set the course record at Pierce College, running the three-mile hilly terrain in 14 minutes, 32 seconds, the Sentinels were supreme. They also had one of the largest student bodies in California.

Times have changed. New schools were built near Belmont, taking away enrollment in droves. The program dropped off. But Gomez, a teacher for 28 years, returned to coach the team five years ago, and now the Sentinels have won back-to-back Division III championships.

“We’re back where we belong,” Gomez said. “It’s important we continue the legacy that Belmont was known for.”

In the Division I boys’ competition, El Camino Real won the team championship behind two-time individual champion Justin Hazell, who placed first in 15:14.75. Hazell was running to win and not worried about time because his major goal is next week’s state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno. He believes he has a real chance to win it all and become the first in the City Section to take the individual title.

“Oh, yes, he’s got a chance,” El Camino Real coach Jun Reichl said. “The plan was to take it out, see if anyone goes and shut it off. He had a phenomenal workout this week.”

In Division I girls, freshman Miranda Schriver of Palisades won in 18:18.30, outdueling Tanya Larbaoui of Granada Hills. They were even heading to final hill until Schriver sprinted away. Granada Hills won the team championship.

At the Southern Section championships in Riverside, Shane Bissell of Loyola won the closest race of the morning, holding off Colin Fitzgerald of Crescenta Valley to win the Division 1 individual boys’ title. Bissell ran 14:39.4; Fitzgerald 14:39.9.

Headed to Cal, Bissell becomes the third Cub to win a cross-country title, joining former standout runners Elias Gedyon and Mark Matusak.

“It was pretty crazy,” Bissell said. “It was very, very tight the entire race. I’ve had a lot of confidence in my kick.”

Temecula Great Oak won the Division 1 boys’ and girls’ titles. Fatima Cortes of Great Oak took the individual girls’ title in 16:27.1.

In Division 4 girls, Claudia Lane of Malibu tuned up for next week’s state championships by cruising to victory in 16:32.5

Football semifinals: The matchups have been finalized for Friday’s football semifinals in Southern Section Division 1. Santa Ana Mater Dei (12-0) will be at Mission Viejo (12-0), and Corona Centennial (10-1) will play Bellflower St. John Bosco (11-1) at Cerritos College.

In the City Section Open Division, Fairfax (9-2) will be at Narbonne (8-3), and Carson (8-3) will be at Crenshaw (9-2).

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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