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Cabrillo’s cross country boys coach Mike Harnden watches his runners finish a training session. Harnden has seven of his boys heading to Riverside on Saturday to compete in the CIF Southern Section Finals. 

Seven boys cross country runners from Cabrillo High School will bring their running shoes to Riverside once again this weekend – as they now pursuit a high finish in the CIF Southern Section finals and clinch a state berth.

Conquistadores head boys coach Mike Harnden says his runners Osvaldo Espinoza, Jacob Brown, Chris Robinson, Nathan Ortiz, Nathan Schatz, Tristan Fichtner and Eddie Trejo will all represent their school at the Riverside Cross Country Course on Saturday.

Harnden, a 2001 graduate of CHS, spent most of his coaching career in Vandenberg Village working with the girls on the running trail. But this time – in his rookie season with the boys – Harden went on to produce multiple runners who are now chasing this milestone for CHS: An appearance in the CIF State Finals in Fresno’s Woodward Park.

Harnden has spent his weekdays working out his runners in preparation for the Riverside meet, including switching up the workouts.

“Their attitudes are very positive,” Harnden said by phone on Tuesday night. “They all talk about what they’ll do to raise the bar. Their mentality is in the right place.”

Harnden says the workouts aren’t lengthy for his runners including getting them to run on hills, but “The workouts are shorter and faster.”

At the CIF Southern Section Division 2 preliminaries held in Riverside on Nov. 11, Cabrillo placed ninth overall by earning 215 team points. San Juan Capistrano JSerra Catholic took first in the Saturday event by racking up 106 points.

The Conquistadores had the highest finish among Santa Barbara County schools at the meet. Only Atascadero – sixth place with 168 points – placed higher than the Conqs among Central Coast schools.

Cabrillo’s top runner in heat one was Espinoza, who sprinted his way to a time of 16:14.6., putting the sophomore at 21st overall in the three mile race. Places 46 to 48 were filled by CHS runners: Trejo (16:50.4), Schatz (16:50.9) and No. 48 Brown (16:51.2).

For Harnden, working with the male runners was an adjustment for him throughout the entire season.

“It was a different change of pace for me,” Harnden said. “I’m optimistic about their chances, though. We’re in a competitive division.”

And that Division is D4 – where the likes of JSerra, Ventura Foothill Technology, Yucca Valley, Harvard-Westlake and Covina await. Atascadero and Nipomo also run in D4. Runners who place in the top 16 in D4 qualify for the Fresno meet during the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Harnden is proud of how his runners have fared throughout the season, but believes they need to increase their effort to place high marks in the Saturday Riverside section finals.

“They’ve got to take it up a notch a little bit,” Harnden said. 

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Sports Reporter