By Lou Ponsi
San Clemente High cross country and track coach Dave Proodian knew he had a gifted athlete in Hana Catsimanes when, as a freshman, the distance runner nearly ran a sub five-minute 1600 meters in her second race of the season.
And she did it wearing just one shoe.
Catsimanes lost a shoe while running the first lap of the race and was driven to continue on by an intense competitive spirit.
Catsimanes finished second in that race and went on to break five minutes in her second 1600 of the season.
“Freshmen don’t run sub five-minute miles,” Proodian said.
As a sophomore, junior, and senior, Catsimanes established herself as one of the county’s best cross country runners in recent memory and one of the best distance runners in track.
Now a senior, Catsimanes recently completed a cross country season in which she finished first in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals, first at the Orange County Championships, first at the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational, and first in the Sea View League Finals.
Catsimanes finished second at the Dana Hills Invitational in a personal best time of 16:44.9 and was 13th in the prestigious Woodbridge Invitational, competing against some of the best runners in the state.
As a junior, Catsimanes was selected as Orange County Runner of the Year by the Orange County Register.
“I’m really competitive and I’m not afraid to push myself and I like self-improvement,” Catsimanes said. “I like winning. I also enjoy running well enough, so my competitiveness and enjoyment work together.”
Catsimanes enjoys the camaraderie of running with teammates and the solitude that comes with running alone on an off-the-beaten-path trail.
Many times, she’s run past the point of pain to experience the difficult-to-attain state of nirvana commonly known as runner’s high.
Catsimanes works as hard in the classroom as she does on the trail and could have attended any number of fine academic institutions.
She visited Wake Forest and Brown before ultimately deciding to attend Wake Forest.
“I really like North Carolina,” she said. “It’s a beautiful state and then the campus is amazing. Once I got to know the team, I kind of fell in love with them and I really liked the coaches too. I’m looking forward to meeting my team and just getting to know everyone.”
But before she focuses on running for the Demon Deacons, Catsimanes still has a track season ahead in the spring.
In between, she hopes to go on a few training runs with her friend and competitor, Carly Corsinita of Capistrano Valley, one of the few runners in the county who can keep up with Catsimanes.
Corsinita, who accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Oregon, won the seniors race in the Laguna Hills Invitational, finished second to Catsimanes at the Orange County Championships, won the South Coast League Finals and logged the fastest time of any Orange County runner (17:10.3) in the CIF SS Division 2 Finals on Nov. 23 in Riverside.
“Honestly, she is amazing,” Catsimanes said of Corsinita. “I always like running with her because she is a good marker of where I should be in a race. We’re pretty much the same speed… off by maybe seconds. I’ll beat her. She’ll beat me. We’re pretty much the same.”
Corsinita finished 10th in the CIF State Championships on Nov. 30 at Riverside and 34th in the Foot Locker National Championships on Dec. 14 at Balboa Park.
“All the accolades she gets are well deserved,” Proodian said about Corsinita.
Dana Hills Boys dominate
On the boys’ side, Dana Hills was arguably the most dominant cross country team in the county.
Led by sophomore Jai Dawson and senior Travis Denker, the Dolphins won the team title in the Varsity Sweepstakes race at the Orange County Championships.
The Dolphins also swept the top five spots at the South Coast League finals, and were second to cross country powerhouse Newberry Park at both the CIF SS Division 2 finals and the CIF State Championships.
Denker and Dawson were consistently among the top three county finishers in every big meet of the season.
Dawson wasn’t even planning on running cross country this season until the season was just beginning.
He clocked 14:41.1 at the Orange County Championships, good enough for second place, and went on to run 14:17.2 to win the South Coast League Finals.
Denker won the Dana Hills Invitational and finished third behind Dawson at the Orange County Championships.