Sugimoto, Pio lead Mira Costa to 14th at Nike Nationals by Joey Clarke Jr.

Mira Costa’s cross-country team shows off their Nike Cross Nationals jerseys. The team placed 14th in the nation at the Portland, Ore., event. (photo courtesy of Aryn Foland)

The cold, rainy weather at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., could not be much farther from what Southern California girls are accustomed to run through. Nonetheless, the Mira Costa girls cross country team fought their way through the muddy track to finish 14th in the nation this past weekend.

“Californians aren’t used to adapting to that weather, and that definitely hurt us big,” junior Kelli Sugomoto said. “Once you hit the mud, it just sucked you in.”

Sugomoto, who along with her teammates got a taste of running through the rain to second-place finishes at CIF and state this year, finished first among the Mustangs in 62nd place overall. Her time of 20.11.3 bested the California Division II state champ, teammate Savannah Pio, by .5 seconds. Pio finished in 65th overall.

“Kelli is our team member who can run through absolutely any weather,” coach Renee Williams-Smith said. “After she passed four runners in the rain in last 200 yards at state and now this, we can count on her regardless of the conditions.”

Sugomoto was running in second on the team for most of the race. But toward the end of the track she saw Pio ahead.

“I wasn’t trying to pass her, but more like working together as a team,” Sugomoto said. “It kind of just happened that I finished ahead of her.”

The pair paced the team to finish 14th in the nation, which is the best finish in school history. In the program’s first trip to nationals last season, they finished 17th when Pio was injured during the run.

“We were so overwhelmed with it all last year,” Williams-Smith said. “Moving up three spots means a lot to us. It’s not bad to be 14th in the nation.”

The national meet came only a week after Savannah Pio became the first Mira Costa runner to win state, which in turn was a week after Pio won CIF.

“I felt a lot of pressure going into state,” Pio said. “Nationals is more of a fun thing and honestly, I didn’t expect to be leading the race.”

Aryn Foland finished 119th overall in 20:53. Shannon Hagedorn took 137th (21:07), Vivian Cherette was four seconds and four spots behind in 141st and 21:11. Jenna Tong finished 159th in 21:23 and Sarah Locke-Henders finished 190th.

A runner from Plano, Texas, Rachel Johnson finished first overall in 18:18. Fayettevill-Manlius from Manlius, N.Y., won the event by setting a meet record of 27 points. Five of their runners finished in the top 12. Saugus, who edged Mira Costa for first at both CIF and State, finished third overall. Their top runner, Kaylin Mahoney, finished in 21st place. Arcadia won the boys championship.

“It’s a big rivalry between the east coast and the west coast,” Williams-Smith said. “It was great to see Arcadia win, and our girls spent a lot of time with the girls from Saugus. It was great to see them finish third.”

“We’re very happy with how our entire season went,” Sugomoto said. “We went from not even being ranked at the beginning to finishing well at Nationals.”