HAYWARD — It had been seven years since the schools of the Redwood Empire were shut out of the North Coast Section cross country team championships. But heading into Saturday’s final race at Hayward High, the Division 2 boys competition, the area that has produced legendary runners like Julia Stamps, Amber Trotter and Luis Luna had failed to secure a banner.
The Maria Carrillo boys weren’t expected to win the race, either. Or at least they weren’t the top-ranked team. Coach Greg Fogg knew otherwise.
“If you look at the top three teams going in, that was us, Redwood and Granada,” Fogg said. “The Granada coach told me before the race: ‘I know you’re ranked third, but I have you ranked first.’ I told him, ‘So did I.’ I think all the coaches thought we were the team to beat.”
And the Pumas were. Getting a strong team performance without placing anyone in the top seven, the Maria Carrillo boys preserved the Empire’s streak and brought home their fifth section title, and third in the past four years.
The Pumas head to Fresno later this week to run in the CIF State Cross Country Championships. They won’t be alone. Carrillo will be joined by three other local teams — the Pumas girls, the Piner boys and the Sonoma Academy girls — and by 13 runners who qualified individually.
None of those individuals made a bigger splash than Sonoma Academy sophomore Rylee Bowen, who won her second consecutive NCS championship in Division 5 and finished as the fastest Redwood Empire girl by completing the 3-mile course in 17:29.7.
The fastest Empire boy was El Molino junior Brian Schulz, who crossed in 15:28.3. We’ll never know whether he could have won with a clean race.
Schulz was leading as he approached the 2-mile split, coming down a soft descent to the high school blacktop, when an event volunteer motioned him to bend to the left. That’s the proper direction on lap 2, but not on lap 3. He was supposed to veer right.
“Maybe she thought I was warming up,” Schulz offered. “I think the guy from Arcata followed me, but the dude from Drake figured it out and powered ahead. I probably should have jumped the fence; I didn’t know if they would disqualify me.”
With bystanders shouting and pointing, Schulz reversed course and took aim at Drake’s Jeremy Leary. He made a strong push, too, but that left him too depleted down the stretch. Schulz finished 11 seconds behind Leary, a noble performance under the circumstances.
Schulz understands it’s his responsibility to know the course. He also acknowledges that it’s easy to make mistakes when suffering from the oxygen deprivation inherent in distance running.
“When you’re tired, you’re not able to make good decisions,” Schulz said.
Two other Empire runners, Santa Rosa teammates Daniel Pride and Delaney White, finished second in their Division 1 races. Neither had a shot at winning – both finished behind kids (Tim Chrisman and Brook Starn, both of Monte Vista) who placed top-five all-time in D1 at NCS – but both exceeded expectations.
“I knew that Brook was too good to catch,” White said. “But I knew that I could get second. One of my goals, I wanted to come around that finishing backstop, because you can see the finish, and she’s not gonna be done yet. And I achieved all my goals today. I really wanted trip No. 3 (to state)!”