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Healdsburg junior Gabby Peterson put in a blistering pace Saturday to capture her second consecutive Sonoma County League girls’ cross country title, while Sonoma Valley stayed perfect over four years, hauling in its fourth consecutive banner and staying undefeated in SCL competition through that stretch.

On the boys’ side, Piner took home the SCL champs banner for the seventh time in eight seasons, this time behind a personal best from senior Jonny Vargas.

Peterson’s effort was one of sheer dominance.

The defending SCL champ finished the course in a personal best of 17:53. Second place was Sonoma Valley senior Amy Stanfield, who finished in 19:50.

“In the weeks prior, in practice, I have been having good workouts and been hitting my times,” Peterson said. “On Saturday, I had the times I wanted to hit and for the most part hit them, or got close.”

If that’s close, competitors might not want to see what surpassing her goal times looks and feels like.

“She’s phenomenal,” said Healdsburg coach Kelly Blanchard. “She really wanted to break 18.”

Her time was faster than any other runner in league history barring three near-legends: Sarah Sumpter of Healdsburg in 2007, Jacque Taylor of Casa Grande in 2008 and Nicole Lane of El Molino in 2011. It’s the 10th fastest time posted by a junior and 18th fastest of all time in on that course in Redwood Empire history.

“You start running in the 17s, you are pretty good,” said longtime Piner coach Luis Rosales. “That was pretty impressive and she has another year to go. And what’s more impressive is she did that all on her own. She was way on her own; but sometimes you’ve just gotta go.”

Heading into Saturday’s meet, Peterson was ranked third in the North Coast Section among Division 4 runners.

And despite her dominating win, Blanchard said Peterson — who doesn’t really slow down her training in advance of competition — was primed for more.

“She was saying, ‘Maybe I could have pushed a little more,’” she said. “It’s in her nature.”

Sonoma Valley’s Stanfield crossed the line in second behind Peterson, and in doing so led the Dragons to their fourth consecutive league title — and the last SCL cross country banner in school history because area league configurations will be all new next season.

“Being the last year of the SCL, that made it special,” said Sonoma Valley coach John Litzenberg.

“Four years ago, I knew, with the girls we had coming out, I knew we were going to be pretty strong,” he said. “We have five seniors that are going to be gone. We had these four years to really go for it.”

And the Dragons had help from newcomer Jenna Ebert who ran a crucial race in the team title chase, coming in fourth behind Piner’s Cynthia Rosales.

“It’s her first year out running,” Litzenberg said. “She was only eight seconds back to (Rosales) so she ran well, too.”

On the boys’ side, Piner’s standout Vargas ran a personal best of 15:35 with other competitors out of eyesight most of the race. Vargas’ time bested the top two finishers from the exciting duel that unfolded at the North Bay League championship Friday: Maria Carrillo senior Ben Lawson in 15:40 and Windsor junior Lucas Chung in 15:41.

Rosales said the lack of competition could have actually helped Vargas on Saturday.

“He ran so relaxed,” he said. “There was no pressure to win. He was so loose.”

Loose is a matter of perspective when it comes to running.

Vargas said it was more like relief — relief that an achy Achilles tendon felt good just after warm ups on race day.

“It was probably a miracle I guess,” he said. “I actually felt good. I think I could have done better, you know run faster, but it was pretty good. It was pretty painful but not as painful as usual.”

Additional good news for Piner was the performance of junior Nathan Hayes who finished second behind Vargas with a time of 15:58.

“He’s finally getting healthy and he’s finally running like I thought he could,” Rosales said of Hayes. “He’s been running with Jonny in practice. It was just a matter of putting a race together. SCL finals is a good time to do it.”

So now all that he, and every other top runner in the Empire, will have to do is put it all together again at the North Coast Section meet in Hayward Saturday.

Piner’s boys are ranked fourth among Division 4 schools in the section and Vargas is ranked No. 3 individually.

Heading into the NBL Championships on Friday, the Maria Carrillo boys were ranked No. 1 in the section among Division 3 schools behind No. 4 Lawson. The Puma girls were ranked No. 2 behind No. 4 Aimee Armstrong and No. 5 Sydnie Rivas, who won the NBL championship.

The Bowen sisters, senior Rylee, and sophomore Kate, who run for the No. 4-ranked Division 5 team, Sonoma Academy, are ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, heading into this weekend’s NCS meet. They finished one-two in the Coastal Mountain Conference finals in Point Arena Wednesday.

The Sonoma Academy boys’ team is ranked No. 3 behind No. 3, junior Andre Williams, and No. 4, senior Kheva Mann. Mann won the boys’ CMC title, followed by teammates, senior Brendan Loftus and Williams.

Rosales expressed some concern that the deadly wildfires that destroyed more than 5,130 homes and killed 23 people in Sonoma County last month might show some effect on area runners who now must compete — some for the first time — against others who haven’t had a big chunk of their training schedule and competitions canceled midseason.

“It was a wash around here because everybody was in the same boat,” he said. “Now it’s going to be a little more difficult. The NCS teams might have a couple weeks on us because of the fires.”

But there is hope that area runners might have a different kind of fire going at this point in the season.

You can reach columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield, on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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