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September 26, 2023
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Los Gatos High cross country teams poised for a championship run

With a stable of talented runners, Los Gatos High cross country coach Paul Lawryk knows the formula for the boys and girls teams to have another successful season. 

“It’s not too complicated this year. Keep them healthy and they’ll do well,” Lawryk said. “It’s just managing them properly over the course of a long season where they feel like they can optimize themselves in the invites and races. We’re spending a lot more time now paying attention, having better plyometric drills and stretching. And just managing their efforts better.”

Junior standout Aydon Stefanopoulos returns and is poised to make further history in what is shaping up to be a storied LGHS athletics career. After a spectacular track and field season last spring in which he was the only boy to finish in the top eight in the CIF State Championships for both the 1600 and 3200 meter run, Stefanopoulos enters the 2023 cross country season as one of the elite talents in California. 

Last season, Stefanopoulos finished fourth in the Division II race of the Central Coast Section Championships and fifth at State. He has a PR of 15 minutes, 30.3 seconds at the 2.95-mile Crystal Springs Course in Belmont, but Lawryk said it’s entirely within reason Stefanopoulos could go sub 15 this season at Crystal, once again the site of this year’s CCS Championships. 

“He’s looking amazing,” Lawryk said. “He is far ahead where he was last year so that’s the scary part.”

Stefanopoulos finished 14th in the prestigious Champs (formerly Foot Locker) Sports West Regional Championships last December, an invite-only meet that features the best runners in the nation. 

“Aydon’s goal is to be in the top 5 in that meet,” Lawryk said. “That is the most elite end game now as an individual to try to be top 5 in the country.”

The Los Gatos boys team exceeded expectations a year ago when it won CCS and advanced to State, but it won’t be flying under the radar in 2023. One website that covers high school cross country pegged Los Gatos No. 1 in its preseason CCS Division II rankings.

Junior Ben Klarich is looking better than ever, a byproduct of sheer determination, hard work and being able to train with a runner of Stefanopoulos’ caliber. 

“Working out with Aydon has made Ben so much better,” Lawryk said. “His results from last year [when he was the team’s fourth or fifth best runner] is not a good indicator to where he is now. He is a top 10 CCS kid for sure.”

Senior Jensen Bidmead came on strong in 2022 and is projected to have another strong season. 

“He’s got some really good potential,” Lawryk said. “The main goal right now is we’ve got to build a [solid] No. 4 and 5 [runners].”

The likely candidates to fill out the Nos. 4-6 positions include juniors Cooper Codding and Adam Wang and sophomore Ryan Sacco.

“This year we’ll be better, but the level of competition will be better, too,” Lawryk said. “We’ll know by mid to late season how things will transpire.”

The girls team made it to State two years ago but fell just short in 2022. However, Lawryk has reason to be optimistic for a return trip to the Championships as the trio of freshmen who excelled in 2021 are healthy again and just as important have the requisite experience to thrive in adverse situations, whether in practice or races. 

Juniors Shea Elmore, Sarina Salzer-Swartz and Tatum Pyle make up three of the top five in the Los Gatos lineup, with Willow Glen-transfer and junior Taylor Chesrek and freshman Elise Greenstreet being the other two mainstays. 

Lawryk refers to them as The Five, in part because they tend to get bunched up together during workouts until the last repeat when they “really start to go after each other.”

“They’ve sort of separated themselves in how they’re running which in my view is very competitive,” Lawryk said. 

Elmore has a PR of 18:10.3 at Crystal Springs, Pyle a 19:11.4 and Salzer-Swartz a 19:13.9. All of their personal-bests were accomplished during their freshmen seasons, which was followed up by sophomore struggles. 

“What happened like a lot of freshmen athletes, they had injury problems the next season,” Lawryk said. “So they had to spend all last season and track season building themselves back up. The good news is they’re in really good form.”

Los Gatos landed a gem in Chesrek, who was Willow Glen’s top runner last year when she ran a PR of 19:04.1 at Crystal Springs to place sixth in the CCS D-III championship race. As an eighth-grader last year at RJ Fisher, Greenstreet was one of the top middle school runners in the area. 

Beyond the top five, the Wildcats boast a fleet of talented runners including Erika Snell, Abigail Zolla, Zoe Williamson, Claire Liu and Kate Herron. 

The Los Gatos girls have the fortune—or misfortune depending on one’s view—of being in Division II in CCS, which boasts some of the top teams in the state. That means the squads that finish fourth or fifth in this year’s Championships—just three qualify for State—won’t be making the trip to Woodward Park in Fresno. 

“We’re in the strongest division in the state of California,” Lawryk said. 

Lawryk isn’t exaggerating. The three CCS D-II teams that competed at State last year—Los Altos, St. Francis and Palo Alto—finished first, third and fourth, respectively, a stunning testimony to the strength of the CCS D-II squads. 

“It’s a rough draw where you have to be super good at CCS in D-II and making it to State is pretty tough,” Lawryk said. “So the question going into the season is how the girls stack up and it’s going to probably end up being a battle in how our Nos. 3 through 6 stack up against those teams. Things are very promising for us as long as we keep the girls healthy.”

Whatever happens, Los Gatos will be a force for years to come. The program is humming, with a total of 100 kids in the boys and girls program. 

“With those numbers there’s a lot going on [in a good way],” Lawryk said. 

Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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