FRESNO -- There are bigger races ahead for Stockdale senior Blake Haney, and everyone knows that.
He does, too, certainly, though you couldn't tell on Thursday, shortly after he had routed the field to win his second Central Section Division I cross country title at Woodward Park, cruising the final mile to clock 15:02 and win by 22 seconds.
"This is a big meet to me," said Haney, who some running websites rank the top high school distance runner in the nation. "It's not like this is a big difference from state to me. These races are no joke. There's good competition, and I'm taking none of this for granted.
Haney probably could have run the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course faster -- he was at 4:51 after a mile and 9:43 after two, and that pace would lead to about 14:40 -- but he didn't need to.
"This race went out pretty slow; we were kind of jogging there for a while," he said. "I was relaxed in the first mile, and then I pushed the pace a little bit."
Next week will be a big week for Haney: He plans to make his final college choice, Oregon or Stanford, in the middle of the week, and then the state meet runs Nov. 30. He'll move from there to the Foot Locker regional and national races in December.
"I've set it over and over again," Haney said. "I'm not trying to run times. If it takes 14:40 to win, then I'll be there. But if it doesn't, I'll still be there. I'd say I'm probably going to have to go faster next week."
Time also was of little concern to McFarland's brilliant teams, which backed up their Kern County team championships from earlier this month with section titles Thursday.
The Cougars' girls won their fifth title in a row, the past four in Division III. But it didn't come easy. McFarland finished with 61 points and received a stiff challenge from second-place Liberty, which surprised with 66 points and also qualified for state with freshman Cagnei Duncan taking third (19:15) and junior Morganne Hill fourth (19:28).
"We made things hard on ourselves," said McFarland coach Amador Ayon, whose team was led by Veronica Garcia's fifth-place finish in 19:32. "We talked about going out with the top girls, but we just kind seemed flat. Still, times don't matter; places matter. It's a win, and we're going to celebrate it. But we'd like to run faster."
Highland senior Savannah Berry won the individual title in the D-III girls race with the fastest Kern County time of the day, 18:44, despite a lingering cold. As she crossed the finish line, with "Scots" emblazoned on the back of her jersey, the announcer called out "There's the winner from Scots-dale," apparently missing the "H" on the front.
But it didn't matter to Berry.
"I've been sick all week, but I was trying to think positively," Berry said. "I've wanted this so bad ever since I started running cross country. It feels so good, and it's cool to put our team out there, because we're not the biggest school or the most known school."
Berry beat Golden Valley's Mariah Ayala (18:59) in a race in which 10 of the top 12 finishers were from Kern County.
"We've all pushed each other the whole season," Berry said. "That helps us in big races like this. Usually it's all Fresno schools, but we're getting up there."
McFarland's boys, ranked No. 5 in the state in Division II by Prep Cal Track, won their second straight D-II section title, totaling 52 points to Porterville-Monache's 79. The back-to-back titles are extra special when you consider McFarland's student enrollment (880) against other D-II schools like Sanger (2,844), Frontier (2,464) Madera (2,124) and Monache (1,918).
"It just means these guys have to keep improving," McFarland boys coach Joel Lopez said. "It makes us work harder, so it makes McFarland better, bottom line. Last year I started thinking about it like that: Forget divisions, just run. If we work harder, things will fall into place."
The result is a team that Lopez said has a chance to be McFarland's best-ever, and this is at a school that won nine state championships when it was in Division IV.
On this day, the Cougars' top runner, Danny Garcia, wasn't at his best -- he battled his way to a sixth-place finish in 16:03. But other runners stepped up, with Luis Orozco leading the way. He ran 15:53 to place second.
"I felt good the whole race," Orozco said. "I'm proud to be on this team. I just wanted to come out and see what I could do."
Abron Ayon (16:20) finished 11th, Thomas Valles (16:25) 12th and Yiovani Topete (16:52) 21st to cement the Cougars' victory.
"We got a couple of (personal records) in there, and then we had some guys who were upset because they got pushed back. But the way I look at it, it's a team, and we needed them all."
West High senior Gustavo DelCastillo had a similarly good day; he took second in the Division II race, finishing in 16:21, and led the Vikings to the team championship. Alek Simpson of Oakhurst-Yosemite was first in 15:52.
"When I took off, I was a little nervous, and by the first hill I was hurting pretty bad," DelCastillo said. "I kept losing the guy from Yosemite, and I was like, 'No, no, no.' But I felt too much pain. He beat me fair and square.
"Still, this makes me happy, because the team won. It was all about the team."
The Vikings held off favored Fresno-Roosevelt, 62-69, even though Tyler Moore (10th place) was their only other medalist. It was the first section title for sixth-year West coach Mark Ogilvie.
"Roosevelt beat us four times (in the regular) season, but we kept our eye on the prize," Ogilvie said. "We knew it would come down to this. This was the big race. Every man has to do his job, and we did."
Stockdale's Vanessa Cortes finished 17th as the top local in the girls Division I race. She ran 19:09, one of the best local times of the day but not enough to qualify for state against the loaded D-I field. In most divisions, the top two teams and top five individuals who finished in the top 12 qualified for the state meet, back at Woodward Park next week.
Other girls state qualifiers
-- East's Angel Valdez was fourth in the Division II girls race, clocking 19:23, and Garces' Jamie Penner was sixth in 19:31. Shafter's girls took second as a team, led by Emily Enns' fifth-place finish (19:27), so the Generals also qualified for state.
-- In Division III, McFarland and Liberty both qualified as teams. Joining Berry and Ayala as individual qualifiers were Ridgeview's Fernanda Aguilar (seventh in 19:42) and Independence's Jenny Chumbe (11th in 20:12).
Other boys state qualifiers
-- Joining West High's team as Division III qualifiers were: Foothill's Chris Garcia (fourth in 16:28) and Sam Magana (fifth in 16:28), plus Arvin's Pedro Cruz (eighth in 16:36).
-- Competing in its first Central Section championship, Rosamond placed second as a team in Division IV. The Roadrunners, who moved from the Southern Section this summer, were led by Angel Mondragon, who placed seventh individually in 17:05.