WATSONVILLE — One win was unexpected.

The other was a landslide.

Both were worthy of celebration.

For the second year in a row, the Aptos High Mariners won both the girls and boys Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championships on Wednesday afternoon at Pinto Lake Park in Watsonville.

The girls captured their sixth straight title and 13th over the last 15 years in a miraculous one-point upset of Santa Cruz High, while the boys finished off their dominant league season with a commanding 47-point victory to repeat as league champs.

“Both teams ran incredibly today,” said Aptos head coach Dan Gruber, “but the girls, I don’t know how else to put it, they have the heart of a champion. It’s been a difficult year with the girls losing focus here and there. This is the first time I saw them run hungry. The first time I saw them run determined.”

Despite being a third-place finisher in last year’s Division III race of the CIF state meet, the Mariners were not seen as the top team in the SCCAL heading into Wednesday with Santa Cruz, led by powerhouse senior Mari Friedman, starting the season hot and improving as the year went on.

Friedman repeated as the SCCAL individual champion, completing the 2.93-mile course in 17 minutes, and 12 seconds, but the Mariners placed their five scoring runners within the top 12 finishers to extend their reign over the league for one more season.

“I’m so proud of how they all raced,” said Aptos senior Marea Zlatunich. “They really stepped it up from the beginning of the season. At the beginning, when we raced at Toro, [Santa Cruz] had all five of their girls in front of our second girl…all throughout the year all the girls have really been working hard. This race especially.”

Zlatunich led the Mariners in second with a time of 17:45. Senior Sofia Natividad (4th, 18:31), freshman Susana Estrada (5th, 18:37), sophomore Kailea Zlatunich (9th, 19:01) and sophomore Ruth Conneely (12th, 19:22) also scored for Aptos, which had several runners shedding tears of joy after finding out they had won.

“This is what our goal was,” Conneely said. “We believed that we could do this even though Santa Cruz had been doing very good. We just said if we put our minds to it we would be able to beat them and it happened.”

The boys, meanwhile, proved their undefeated dual meet season was no joke by placing their five scoring runners in the top nine. Seniors Jorge Benitez (2nd, 15:46), Koya Oki (3rd, 15:47), Jackson Schenone (4th, 16:02) and Luis Garcia (6th, 16:10) and junior Josiah Sweet (9th, 16:28) scored for Aptos, which last year stunned San Lorenzo Valley High and added Benitez and Schenone to the mix in the offseason.

Benitez had a little more motivation to excel this season after choosing to sit out last year only to watch his friends and teammates win the title. He didn’t make the same mistake this season.

“We were all motivated in our own ways to work hard and build a juggernaut of a team,” Benitez said.

Both teams will advance to next week’s Central Coast Section meet at Toro Park in Salinas.

The girls will try to win their seventh straight CCS D-III team title, while Zlatunich will enter as the defending D-III individual champion and the section’s reigning runner of the year.

The boys will try to earn a trip to the CIF state meet.

Both teams weren’t ready to look ahead to next week, still basking in the glory of Wednesday’s wins. Especially the girls’ triumph.

“It’s simply amazing,” Gruber said. “[Santa Cruz] hadn’t lost all year. [Santa Cruz is] the top team in the section without a doubt. Those girls ran with heart. They wanted it today.”

Both of St. Francis High’s teams will also move on to the CCS meet.

The Sharks’ girls finished sixth as a team and the boys took fifth.

Junior runner E.J. Kelly finished sixth (16:19) as an individual on Wednesday and will be one of a handful of contenders for the CCS D-V individual crown after taking second last season.

“I’m happy to get through this today. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about CCS. But now that this is over, it’ll be on to the next race,” Kelly said. “I’m looking forward to get back to training.”



1. Aptos — 32

2. Santa Cruz — 33

3. San Lorenzo Valley — 82

4. Soquel — 96

5. Scotts Valley — 119

6. St. Francis — 160

7. Harbor — 187


1. Aptos — 24

2. San Lorenzo Valley — 71

3. Scotts Valley — 82

4. Santa Cruz — 107

5. St. Francis — 128

6. Soquel — 142

7. Harbor — 154



1. Mari Friedman, Santa Cruz: 17:12

2. Marea Zlatunich, Aptos: 17:45

3. Lila Roake, Santa Cruz: 18:28

4. Sofia Natividad, Aptos: 18:31

5. Susana Estrada, Aptos: 18:37

6. Isabel Sanchez, Santa Cruz: 18:39

7. Azalea Groleau, SLV: 18:43

8. Anaya Ward, Santa Cruz: 18:51

9. Kailea Zlatunich, Aptos: 19:01

10. Gabby Hughes, Soquel: 19:15


1. Chris Anderson, SLV: 15:36

2. Jorge Benitez, Aptos: 15:46

3. Koya Oki, Aptos: 15:47

4. Jackson Schenone, Aptos: 16:02

5. Hugh Chomentowski, Santa Cruz: 16:07

6. Luis Garcia, Aptos: 16:10

7. E.J. Kelly, St. Francis: 16:19

8. Mitchell Ross, Scotts Valley: 16:22

9. Josiah Sweet, Aptos: 16:28

10. Darren Mudge, Scotts Valley: 16:38

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