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Newbury Park: The best high school sports team you’ve probably never heard of

The Newbury Park team. Credit: Luca Evans / LA Times

Morning announcement listeners must assume that Eagle Rock High School possesses an utter dearth of athletic competition.

Mid-September, we were treated to a rousing rendition of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, followed by a recap of football’s loss to Granada Hills. But after promising a victory over Lincoln in the October 1 Homecoming game, talk turned quickly to the mysterious nacho-centric lunch menu. True, girls tennis and volleyball did receive brief good luck wishes for competitions at some nebulous points in the next week. But that was all.

You see, ERHS girls tennis played what Coach Eric Jacobson called the best matches of the season so far that previous Friday.

Girls volleyball, currently ranked first in the Northern League, beat Lincoln High School that same day.

And the following Saturday, our varsity cross country teams raced in one of the largest meets in the country.

A cross country athlete myself, I’m not complaining about the enduring lack of attention afforded to our sport. I get it - watching people sweat up and down hills and around grassy fields lacks the excitement of a football game. 3rd and goal with the clock winding down? Intermittent glimpses of kids running for three miles just can’t compare. And, of course, sports where the object is scoring the fewest possible points tend to appeal to narrower audiences. (I’m looking at you, golf.)

Given the perennial absence of hoopla around cross country, it’s no small wonder that few people understand the impressive feats of this past weekend’s Woodbridge XC Classic:

  • Leo Young set a new national record, running 3 miles in 13 minutes and 38.10 seconds. (For context, Young essentially ran a round-trip from ERHS to the Target on Colorado Boulevard in the time it takes a liter of water to boil on an electric stove.)

  • Aaron Salhman finished just 4 seconds later, in 13:42.30, less than 3 seconds off the previous record.

  • Lex Young came in 2 seconds behind Salhman, in 13:44.4, and was closely followed by Colin Salhman (13:48.00).

The real kicker? All four of these athletes compete for the same school, powerhouse Newbury Park.

Newbury Park surged into the cross country scene in 2019, claiming state and national titles the last time that major meets took place in-person. At Woodbridge 2019, then-senior and lead runner Nico Young set the national record (13:39.10) newly-broken by his younger sibling.

This past Woodbridge, not only did the elder Young’s record fall, but the Newbury Park team saw four runners finish under 14 minutes, with their fifth only 1 minute behind their lead runner. This impressive spread contributed to an unprecedented team average of 13:54.06 (a new national team record).

Again, because the frame of reference for cross country is extraordinarily slim, some context: To have even one runner finishing sub-14 minutes is rare, like having your prep quarterback throw a 5,750-yard season (nearly the California state record). This makes Leo Young’s performance tantamount to having your quarterback’s younger brother come along and throw 5,800+ the next season. To have four athletes running this fast on one team is like this new quarterback dividing the ball between a running back and two star receivers, all of whom will play for the NFL and likely start their rookie seasons.

If Woodbridge 2021 is any indication, Newbury Park XC is shaping up not only to reclaim its national title, but to solidify its place as one of the greatest high school sports teams of all time.

Cross country may go without other sports’ pace and flair, but to me at least, watching history in the making is a thrill. So next time you're enjoying some school nachos, try taking a look at a reply of the finish of this incredible race.

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