APPLE VALLEY • Jason Lewis went out for cross country by accident.

The Excelsior junior thought the tryouts were for track and field on the first day. When first-year coach Vicky McDaniel told him it was for cross country, Lewis started to walk the other way. After all, he had told himself he could never run cross country. He said it was impossible for him to run three miles.

But he had a change of heart.

“I was like, ‘No’ and I walked away,” Lewis recalled. “She said, ‘Hey you come back here.’ And I was just like ‘OK,’ and I came back. I figured I might as well commit to it.”

He’s found success pretty quickly as a distance runner. Lewis won the Agape League’s opening race Tuesday at Horseman’s Center, edging Hesperia Christian’s Timothy Baum by a second.

Lewis became the first runner from Excelsior, male or female, to win an Agape League race in the cross country league’s six-year history after finishing the race in 18 minutes, 2 seconds.

Lewis competed in the 1,600, 3,200 meters and on the 4x400 meter relay team his freshman year, but he chose not to compete in track his sophomore year. He wanted to give running another shot this year.

“I thought it was too hard, I didn’t want to do it.” Lewis said. “It was something that was so challenging that I didn’t want to commit to last year.”

Other than Lewis’ performance, it was business as usual at the meet.

The Academy for Academic Excellence won both the boys and girls team races, while Hesperia Christian’s Nicole Jenkins (21:50) remained unbeaten in four years of Agape League meets.

At Tuesday’s meet, the boys and girls varsity races were combined, something that Jenkins enjoyed.

“It helps a lot. It’s nice because it’s hard for me when it’s just the girls, because I don’t have anybody to pace myself with,” Jenkins said.

The rest of the league races could be very interesting on the boys side with the top four runners finishing within 16 seconds of each other.

Behind Lewis and Baum (18:03), Victor Valley Christian’s Zach DeAtley (18:13) came in third, and AAE’s Kyle Rodriguez (18:18) took fourth.

The Knights won the boys race with 25 points, topping second place Hesperia Christian (48) and Excelsior (59) - the only other teams to field full squads. AAE - which was coming off a sixth-place finish in the Yucaipa Invitational Division 3 race - had five runners in the top eight.

“I told them today don’t worry about their times,” AAE coach Jim Southwick said. “But I really wanted to see where we would place and score as a team. ... I think if we continue to improve, we’re a little bit ahead of where we were last year. If we can continue to drop our team time, I think we have a chance to move on again. That’s what we’re looking to do to move on to CIF-(Southern Section) Finals and drop down.”

On the girls side, the Knights won by virtue of being the only team to have five runners finish.

AAE, which won the league title on both sides for the second year in a row last year, nearly didn’t go to the postseason due to the league struggling to draw the minimum amount of teams at league cluster meets for a squad to earn an automatic postseason berth. But teams were able to recruit enough runners at the last minute for league finals to make it happen.

The Knights’ top runner, freshman Carolina Phillips (22:03) - a standout varsity volleyball player as well - ran for the first time at the prep level and finished second. The 13-second gap between Phillips and Jenkins was the closest competition Jenkins has had at an Agape League race in her prep career.

Summit Leadership Academy also ran, but since it is not a member of the Agape League, the results didn’t factor into individual standings or team scores. SLA is competing as a freelance team this season.

The next Agape League meet will be Oct. 9 at Hesperia Christian.

At Horsemen’s Center, Apple Valley
1. Academy for Academic Exellence 25; 2. Hesperia Christian 48; 3. Excelsior 59; 4. Victor Valley Christian N/A; 5. Apple Valley Christian  N/A.
1. Lewis (E) 18:02; 2. Baum (H) 18:03; 3. DeAtley (V) 18:13; 4. Rodriguez (AA) 18:18; 5. Williams (AA) 18:46; 6. Phillips (AA) 19:27; 7. Kingston (AA) 19:35; 8. Chavez (AA) 19:41; 9. Flores (H) 20:22; 10. Frobenius (H) 20:36.
1. AAE 4-0; 2. HCS 3-1; 3. Excelsior 2-2; T4. VVCS 0-4; T4. AVCS 0-4.
1. AAE 15; 2. HCS N/A; 3. AVCS N/A; 4. Excelsior N/A.
1. Jenkins (H) 21:50; 2. Phillips (AA) 22:03; 3. Meraz (E) 23:07; 4. Hays (H) 23:31; 5. Carrazedo (AV) 23:54; 6. Losch (AV) 24:15; 7. McFadden (AA) 26:13; 8. Alnakoud (AA) 27:16; 9. Thompson (E) 27:57; 10. Lewis (E) 29:42.
1. AAE 4-0; T2. AVCS 0-4; T2. HCS 0-2; T2. Excelsior 0-4.

C.J. Daft can be reached at or at  (760) 951-6275 .