Samohi junior Phoebe Benun and the girls varsity squad will compete in the CIF Southern Section Preliminaries on Saturday. Credit: David E. Hunzicker

In what Samohi Cross-Country head coach Tania Fischer called “probably the hardest league” in CIF’s Southern Section, the girls’ varsity team clinched a spot in a postseason preliminary meet during the Bay League Finals Nov. 2. The Southern Section Preliminaries take place Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College, an arduous course the squad has taken on before.

At the Bay League meet, held at Redondo Union High School, the girls squad finished fourth behind the host school and fellow league heavyweights Palos Verdes and Mira Costa. Santa Monica’s team score of 68 just missed the cut of the top three, the usual cutoff for the Preliminaries, but the girls’ 11th-place Southern Section ranking earned the team a “wild card” bye into the Mt. Sac meet.

The girls were once again paced at the Bay League meet by junior phenom Phoebe Benun, who continued her consistently dominant 2023 campaign by winning the 3-mile varsity race. Benun’s time of 17:34.97 beat out Redondo Union’s Lyla Fedio by 4 seconds, clinching the junior back-to-back individual Bay League championships, the first to complete that feat since Rebecca Mehra of Palos Verdes in 2008 and 2009.

Fischer noted that her top runner showed great “racing instincts” in the victory, making her move past competitors on a key downhill to claim the win.

“[Benun had] that kind of confidence during a race to make a move, and to make it so that the other girls couldn’t come back … she’s just been exciting to coach, and seeing her development as a runner … it’s just a testament to her ability and her willingness to put in the work,” Fischer said.

The junior also paced the field by nearly 20 seconds at the Oct. 10 Bay League Meet, making the Finals her second win in 2023. Benun also finished second in the 2-mile Palos Verdes Invitational on Sept. 29, and took third-place finishes at the 2.93-Mile Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational and the ASICS Cool Breeze Evening Invitational.

“She’s continued to lead our team [and] be the positive element,” Fischer added. “There’s always someone [like her] that just elevates your whole program, because she’s enthusiastic, she’s a great leader and she just brings everybody up, so to speak. She lifts everybody up in spirit.”

Following Benun’s lead were the trio of junior Cleo Topp, senior Hawene Alomayehu and senior Matilde Martinez, who took the 14th, 15th and 16th spots at the Bay League meet, respectively. Sticking together shortened the score for the Lady Vikings, a strategy the team will try to employ at an unforgiving Mt. SAC course on Saturday. The course holds a “super fast” flat first mile, followed by multiple steep hills cresting with Reservoir Hill before a half-mile run to the finish. Out of the squad’s 16-team heat, consisting of teams finishing tops in their respective leagues, only four will move onto the Southern Section Finals on Nov. 18.

“You’re constantly changing gears … you’re trying to ‘recover’ on the downhills but you still have to press the downhills,” Fischer said of Saturday’s meet. “There’s no way you can take a break, it is a constant pushing and picking up the pace and gear-changing. Running hills is difficult, [but] if you’re fit you can do it, and you have to have that mindset that [you’re ready].”

The Bay League Finals were the last 2023 meet for the boys unit, as the Vikings also finished fourth with a 119 team score, unable to secure a Bay League or wild card bid to CIF. The Vikings were paced by sophomore Emerson Hill and junior Landon Kozmor, who finished 20th and 21st overall, respectively.

In Junior Varsity action, the boys team finished third with a team score of 95, while the girls took second with a team score of 53. Freshman boys finished third in Bay League competition, while the girls placed the first four individuals en route to a freshman victory. Freshman Selin Kocataskin’s impressive 3-mile time of 19:53.37 earned her a spot as an alternate for Saturday’s varsity race.

Samohi Cross-Country:
Nov. 2- Bay League Finals at Redondo Union, Boys’ Varsity 3-Mile Run:
1. Mira Costa- 27
2. Redondo Union- 55
3. Palos Verdes- 67
4. Santa Monica- 119
5. Peninsula- 123
6. Culver City – 159

Emerson Hill (Sophomore): 15:56.14, 20th overall
Landon Kozmor (Junior): 16:02.11, 21st overall
David Ervin (Senior): 16:07.82, 25th overall
James Faries (Sophomore): 16:09.85, 26th overall
Kingsley Lin (Freshman): 16:10.38, 27th overall
Nico Lombard (Senior): 16:12.19, 28th overall
Brody Wilkes (Senior): 16:35.59, 32nd overall

Girls’ Varsity 3-Mile Run:
1. Redondo Union- 49
2. Palos Verdes- 53
3. Mira Costa- 60
4. Santa Monica- 68
5. Peninsula- 119
6. Culver City- 189

Phoebe Benun (Junior): 17:34.97, 1st overall
Cleo Topp (Junior): 18:58.59, 13th overall
Hawene Alomayehu (Senior): 19:06.47, 14th overall
Matilde Martinez (Senior): 19:07.96, 15th overall
Crystal Gaitan (Sophomore): 19:46.59, 25th overall
Maeko Gross (Junior): 20:18.77, 30th overall
Siena Tovar Burke (Junior): 20:34.33, 33rd overall

Next Meet: Saturday- Girls’ Varsity at CIF Preliminary Meet, Mt. San Antonio College

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...