By Dan Arritt     9/27/2016

The JSerra boys’ cross-country team made history last season when Andrew Burkhardt became the first runner from the school to win an individual state title.

This fall, it appears the JSerra girls are ready to steal the headlines.

Nadia Tabrizi, the top girls’ runner in the Trinity League last season, returns for her sophomore year, and she’ll be joined by two of the team’s other top runners from last season, sophomore Isabella Abusaid and senior Mckayla Giacobetti.

The trio helped JSerra win the league title, finish sixth in CIF-SS Division IV and seventh at the Division IV state finals, the same result the JSerra boys’ team produced on the 3.1-mile course at Woodward Park in Fresno.

Tabrizi paced the Lions in all three events, winning the league title, finishing 19th at the section finals and 32nd at state.

Competition figures to be tough, however.

The top 12 finishers at the Trinity League finals last November were all freshmen, sophomores or juniors, as well as 21 of the top 23.

Tabrizi’s biggest league challenger appears to be Santa Margarita junior McKenzie Shulman, who finished second in the league finals and 25th in CIF-SS Division III. Her time of 19 minutes 9.2 seconds was just six seconds slower than what Tabrizi ran in her Division IV race on the same hilly Mt. San Antonio College course.

Shulman has shown to be better at shorter distances, however, winning the Trinity League track and field title in the 1,600 meters last spring.

Tabrizi and Shulman should go head-to-head in the Trinity League prelims Sept. 28 at Central Park in Huntington Beach, and likely again at the Orange County Championships Oct. 15 at Irvine Regional Park.

Full bragging rights will be on the line at the Trinity League finals Nov. 11 back at Central Park.

Leslie Gonzalez of Rosary might also be a threat to Tabrizi and Shulman. The junior finished third at the league finals last fall and second to Tabrizi in the 3,200 meters at the Trinity League track and field championships last spring.

JSerra, ranked third in the girls’ Division IV preseason poll, will have to replace three of its top seven runners from last season, as Ella Coppola moved, Skylar Giacobetti decided to focus on soccer and Elyse Mata transferred to Tesoro, but coach Marty Dugard believes the Lions will be stronger this season.

Defending its league title could be a lot tougher for the JSerra boys’ team, which ended St. John Bosco’s streak of 21 consecutive league titles last season. Not only did Burkhardt graduate and move on to the University of California, but Servite returns two runners who finished in the top four in the league finals, senior Michael Holbrook and junior Vincent Sarino.

JSerra is hoping to get a big lift from freshman Anthony Grover, who was the team’s top finisher in early September at the Riverside Showcase Invitational, helping the Lions take third overall. He also showed his skill over the summer at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics, finishing sixth in his age group in the 3,000 meters in 9:02.15.

Both teams spent a week training over the summer at Mammoth Lakes, helping their conditioning and, just as important, serving as an ideal bonding experience.