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State Championship Run, More To Come For Mustang Boys
Cross Country
State champions, making history. Oakdale’s varsity cross country boys pose with Coaches Vic Moreno, left, and Guy Fowler, second from left, as they celebrate the Mustangs’ 2022 California state Division III cross country championship. Photo Courtesy Of Guy Fowler

Last summer, Oakdale Mustang cross country coaches Guy Fowler and Vic Moreno sized up their varsity boys’ team as it appeared on paper, and came to the conclusion that this year’s team could be very special indeed. Not only was the team returning a number of veterans from the 2021 Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section championship team, but a very special transfer student had been added to the already powerful mix of harriers. Returning were 2021 Sac-Joaquin Section individual champion, Caleb Cavanaugh, and his running partner for the past three seasons, Dax Daley, as well as fellow senior Gabe Archuleta, and four talented underclassmen in junior brothers Jackson and Mason Oliveira and Abner Gonzalez, and sophomore Jacob Cavanaugh – all excellent runners. The very special transfer student was junior Omar Alsaidi, who, last year, ran for Ripon High School. The addition of the extremely talented Alsaidi gave Fowler and Moreno that one component needed to make an excellent team into an outstanding team.

Fowler set a very ambitious goal for the team: “To win league, sections and state.” In preparing for what the coaches believed could be an incredible season, Fowler invited longtime friend and coach of the legendary McFarland High School Cougars cross country program, Amador Ayon Fernandez, to speak motivationally to the team before its first practice of the season (a story that appeared in an earlier edition of The Leader). Following Ayon Fernandez’s presentation, Fowler noted: “Last year we kind of went unnoticed; but that will not be the case this year. We definitely have the talent … to make a return trip to the California State Championships. Right now, it is all about preparing, staying healthy, and eating right, and if we can do that we will be there in the end. It’s going to be a fun year.”

Fowler made that statement in early August. On Saturday, Nov. 26, the Mustangs, as they have done all year long, brought Fowler’s goal to fruition in a spectacular manner by winning the California State Division III Cross Country Championship at Woodward Park in Fresno. The Mustangs entered seven runners in the championship 5,000-meter race; however, per California state cross country rules, only the times of the top five finishers for a team count. Mustang runners finished second, fifth, seventh, 16th and 55th, to set an all-time Division III record score of 56 points in a sport in which the lowest total score wins. The Mustang score outpaced that of the second-place team, Campolindo High School from Moraga, by an astonishing 53 points as the Mustangs stormed to the California state championship, thereby achieving Fowler’s third and most ambitious goal, Oakdale’s first California state cross country title. Not only was it the first state championship by an Oakdale cross country team, but it was also the first state cross country championship by any high school in either Stanislaus or San Joaquin counties. It certainly has been a fun year for Fowler, Moreno, and the members of the team, and the fun is not yet over as the team will now travel to Huntsville, Alabama on Dec. 3 to race in the Garmin Running Lane Cross Country Championships.

“Some of the best high school teams in the nation will be there and our boys are ready to go,” said Fowler.

Prior to the much-anticipated boys’ Division III race, Mustang senior Kassidy Fmura, running as an individual after finishing second in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters’ race on Nov. 12, completed the 5,000-meter girls’ Division III event in 19 minutes, 12.8 seconds, a personal record, to finish 39th out of the 212 young women in that event and complete an amazing season that saw her win the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section meets in addition to her second place in the Masters’ meet.

“Kassidy ran an amazing race; the second fastest time in school history on this course,” said Fowler. “What a great way to end her amazing cross-country career at Oakdale High.”

As it turned out, Fmura’s success would serve as a portent of things to come in the boys’ Division III race.

All season long, senior Dax Daley and junior Omar Alsaidi, while being steadfast teammates, had maintained a quiet yet vigorous competition among themselves as to who was the best runner on the team. Daley won the VOL championship and several other races during the year, but Alsaidi drove himself hard to outpace Daley in both the Sub-Section and Masters’ meets, finishing third in the Sub-Section meet and second in the Masters’ championship meet.

As if a masterful Mustang script writer had planned the state meet, the boys’ Division III race was the final event of the day last Saturday. A group of 215 of the state’s best Division III male runners began the 5,000-meter race. This time it was Daley who led the amazing Mustang effort as he completed the course in an Oakdale High School record time of 15 minutes, 17.9 seconds and finished second, some 13.6 seconds behind state champion, Evan Noonan, a sophomore from Dana Hills High School in Orange County’s Dana Point, CA. Daley averaged an astonishing 4 minutes, 55.1 seconds per mile, and was in third place overall at the end of the first mile and the second mile. On the final leg of the race Daley was able to drive past Campolindo’s Alexander Lodewick and Templeton’s Joshua Bell, with whom he was tied in third place, to earn the silver medal. In a tightly packed group of elite runners near the front of the pack, Alsaidi (15:19.8) finished just 2.1 seconds behind Daley, also breaking the existing Oakdale High School record, averaging 4:55.7 per mile, to earn fifth place overall. He had held eighth place at the end of the first mile and then maintained fifth position for the remainder of the race. The 2021 Sac-Joaquin Section Masters champion, senior Caleb Cavanaugh (15:28.4 and 4:58.5 per mile), finished seventh overall, climbing from 25th at the end of the first mile and 11th at the end of the second mile, while junior Jackson Oliveira (15:55.5/5:05.7 per mile) earned 16th place overall after being in 23rd place at the end of the first mile and 20th place at the end of the second mile. In a competition at the level of the California State Meet, it is absolutely incredible for one team to have four runners finish in the top 16. Solidifying the all-time state record score for Division III of 56 points was sophomore Jacob Cavanaugh (16:28.8/5:17.9 per mile) who came in 55th, driving up from 91st position at the end of the opening mile and then 66th position at the end of the second mile, as the fifth and final Mustang runner whose time would count in the overall score. Rounding out this day of days for the Mustang cross country program, senior Gabe Archuleta finished 167th in 17:51.8 and junior Abner Gonzalez (19:00) finished 201st. A brief analysis of the split times at the end of the first mile, the second mile, and the race itself clearly indicates that Mustang runners excelled in the final mile of the race, with each runner improving his position, in some cases, such as both Cavanaugh brothers and Oliveira, substantially, indicating that Mustang runners were in outstanding running condition coupled with the intense desire needed to earn the state championship.

“The boys made history,” commented Fowler.

The combined team time of 1 hour, 18 minutes, 31 seconds was the second fastest Division III time in the history of the California state meet.

“Only seven ran but we had a group of 10 boys that bought into the process and they answered the call all year long,” continued Fowler. “There is not one individual on the boys’ team you can single out because they all did this together, like family. It goes without saying, the amazing support we had from our parents and community … what a blessing it is to live in this town.”

Making history, as did the boys’ cross-country team, can indeed be fun, and the fun is not yet over. The team’s trip to Alabama for the Dec. 3 national-level meet is already an historical event in the annals of Oakdale High School, and could become an even greater one depending on how the team performs.

Lady Mustang senior Kassidy Fmura, number 1185, finished 39th out of 212 runners in the California Girls’ Division III state cross country meet. StanCo Distance Photo