The Scotts Valley High cross country program has been the cream of the crop in the Central Coast Section for the past two seasons.
For those who doubt it, then perhaps back-to-back Division IV team championships in 2021 and ‘22 for both the boys and girls teams should tell the story.
This year should be no different for the Falcons as both sides prepare to embark on a quest for a third straight section title in as many years.
“They know it’s going to be hard because they got to do everything right and do everything smart,” said Falcons coach Todd Hoffman.
The boys roster has 22 runners ready to suit up, including team captains seniors Mason Lantz and the George twins—Ben and Spencer—along with senior Eli Granados and sophomore Aaron Weiss.
Other runners have also stepped into bigger roles, including senior Alex May and a quartet of underclassmen who put in some extra work during the summer.
“The leadership on our team is so great that the new kids, they’re into it now,” Hoffman said.
Scotts Valley did lose several seniors due to graduation, such as Aiden Boothby, who qualified for the CIF State Championships in November 2022.
Lantz said he would like to think this season is the same as every other year, but being named team captain does come with some responsibilities.
“It’s kind of fun, I get to lead the freshmen and sophomores. Not boss them around but show them how we do things around here,” he said.
The Falcons boys team have won seven Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League crowns, including five straight dating back to 2018. They’re also the defending CCS D-IV team champion for the past two years, giving them a total of three section titles.
Lantz said it means a lot to know the coaching staff and his peers feel like he’s responsible enough to steer the Falcons into the right direction. He added that the fun part of his captaincy is having the underclassmen looking up to this year’s seniors, as he remembers at one time being a freshman and going up to older teammates seeking advice.
“Now I’m the one who’s showing all the freshmen, encouraging them to make sure that they know that they can eventually get to as fast as I am, if not faster,” Lantz said.
Individually, the boys will attempt to stay on pace with Santa Cruz High junior Eli Fitchen-Young, the defending CCS D-IV champion.
“We’re all trying to see how close we can get to [Fitchen-Young], if we can beat them,” Lantz said. “As a team, we just want to make sure that we can stay in that No. 1 spot.”
Lantz said last year they felt the pressure of being the defending CCS champion, and even during his sophomore year when Scotts Valley lost former standouts Jeremy Kain, Ryder Brabo and Austin George following the 2021 season.
“Last year was kind of like redemption to show them that we didn’t need them,” Lantz said. “We still have that target on our back, but once again it’s showing that we don’t need the three seniors who graduated. We have enough people coming up through the ranks constantly that we can continue to dominate this [CCS] title and hopefully bring it back for a third year in a row.”
On the girls side, the defending SCCAL and CCS D-IV individual champion Ashlyn Boothby is making her return.
The senior standout will be joined by fellow team captains senior Diana Alivov and junior Violet McCutchen, who have been great communicators and leaders both on and off the course.
“Kids know that they can trust them and they’re hard working,” Hoffman said.
Prior to the season, Scotts Valley girls team was in search of a third team captain. Hoffman said Boothby and Alivov quickly chose McCutchen because of the energy and spark the team needs.
“I’m really excited to see what we do this season,” Alivov said. “Even though we lost a couple of seniors, we have such a strong team and we’ve all been working really hard this summer.”
The Falcons girls team will be just 11 runners deep after losing several key runners due to graduation, including Amber Boothby and Rafaela Putnam. It’ll now be up to the veterans to lead the way at a chance to win their third straight SCCAL and CCS championships.
“There’s definitely targets, they know it,” Hoffman said. “Our girls team, they’ll be strong again, we’ll get through these little injuries. We don’t have a lot of numbers, but they’re working hard.”
McCutchen said losing a big chunk of seniors from last year’s squad definitely hurts in terms of having depth, yet the confidence level remains at an all-time high.
“A lot of the other teams, they also lost a lot of seniors, so I feel like it’s pretty even,” she said.
Scotts Valley boys and girls teams will defend their SCCAL title against familiar foes in Aptos, Harbor, Mount Madonna, Santa Cruz, Soquel and San Lorenzo Valley high schools.
Hoffman said the only thing he could do is guide both teams to accomplish their goals, which is to repeat as league and CCS champion. He believes all of it is achievable, but they also have to realize other schools will be gunning for the same thing.
“Other teams want to take those titles, we’ve got to go back in and take them from other teams because they’re not going to give it to you,” he said. “We got to be smart through the season, do the right things and do it the right way.”