Buchanan High cross country assistant coach Brian Weaver jumps on his mountain bike to follow his runners as they take off for a Tuesday training session.
Weaver is prepared to work up a sweat keeping up with the boys and girls varsity runners.
I'm slightly injured right now so I'm on the bike, he said. Oh, these guys can really go.
Weaver and head coach Marty Simpson may need to invest in a tandem 10-speed this season to catch the Bears teams. The boys squad is ranked No. 2 in the Central Section behind defending Division I champion Madera. The Buchanan girls team, which won the D-I section title and placed third at the state meet last year, received a No. 1 ranking with Madera at No. 2.
If any team has an advantage, it's the Buchanan boys who return a close-knit group of five juniors, along with sophomore Heath Reedy. Jonathan Sanchez, Danny Vartanian, Carson Keller, Matt Milton and Taylor Mearns share a long string of accolades dating back to their freshman season.
We never lost a freshman or sophomore race, and our freshman group was always running with the big guys, said Danny Vartanian, whose older brother David Vartanian graduated from Clovis West and is a senior distance runner at Fresno State. We have confidence in each other. We want to get on the podium -- in the top three at the state meet this year.
The Bears have the legs to get there, and are ranked fourth in the state D-I preseason poll. Buchanan finished 12th last year in the D-I race at the state meet on the Woodward Park course.
Sanchez is the Bears' frontrunner after winning the D-I section individual title as a sophomore. His time of 15 minutes, 46 seconds on the Woodward Park course still stands as his personal record. Buchanan finished second to Madera in the D-I section race last year.
We're shooting for first at the Valley meet and a top-10 finish at state, Sanchez said. The Woodbridge Invite will be a good marker for all of us.
The Woodbridge Invitational on Saturday at Woodbridge High in Irvine, and the 150-team Clovis Invitational on Oct. 6 at Woodward Park serve as the two premier preseason meets.
Buchanan will get its first look at the Madera squad at the Woodbridge Invite, as the D-I boys sweepstakes race starts Saturday at 9:30 p.m. The Coyotes will be traveling with new head coach Joyce Tucker, who was a two-year assistant to former coach Rich Parris who took a coaching job at his alma mater, Fallbrook High in San Diego.
Tucker inherits a solid Madera boys team that returns three runners from last year's D-I section championship squad. Seniors Javier Sanchez and Isai Orea, along with junior Jesse Arellano, will form the lead pack for the Coyotes.
They will hit some top speeds on the Woodbridge course. Arcadia, Ayala-Chino Hills, Big Bear, Buchanan, Clovis East and Clovis West enter as the top six boys teams in the sweepstakes race. Madera is listed at No. 9.
It's an incredibly fast course on cement at their high school, Tucker said. There are 7,500 kids competing at this invitational, so it's always amazing how well they organize it.
Tucker is also excited about the level of talent within the Central Section.
Our Madera boys team has won the D-I section title five years in a row, she said. And the Buchanan girls have won it seven years in a row.
The Buchanan girls team took a big hit when four-time section champion Lauren Saylor graduated. She is competing at the University of Washington. Saylor's sister Cathryn, a junior, returns as one of the Bears' top three runners, along with junior Sue Choi and sophomore Chelsea Janzen. Freshman Macy Bricks will also challenge for a top-six spot.
Buchanan, ranked eighth in the state in D-I, enters the girls sweepstakes race at Woodbridge as No. 2 behind Ayala.
Even though Lauren is gone and she was our backbone, Cathryn Saylor said, we're solid and have five or six girls competing for our fifth through seventh spots.
Clovis West junior Chloe Allen enters the Woodbridge sweepstakes race as the No. 2-ranked runner behind University-Irvine's Janine Emery.