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Benefield: Catch the Vikings while you can

Led by returning champion Hanne Thomsen, Montgomery is eyeing a team run at this month’s state championships.|

Where and how to watch NCS cross country finals

A slew of local athletes are competing in the North Coast Section cross country finals Saturday at Hayward High School. General admission is $7. Races run as follows:

Division 4 girls: 8:30 a.m.

Division 5 girls: 9 a.m.

Division 4 boys: 9:30 a.m.

Division 5 boys: 10 a.m.

Division 1 girls: 10:30 a.m.

Division 2 boys: 11 a.m.

Division 3 girls: 11:30 a.m.

Division 1 boys: 12 p.m.

Division 2 girls: 12:30 p.m.

Division 3 boys: 1 p.m.

Source: www.cifncs.org

Running is a funny thing. Dominance is hard to see with the naked eye.

Or at least to a novice naked eye like mine.

So I asked some more experienced folk if Montgomery High School sophomore sensation Hanne Thomsen’s running gifts are obvious to experts and laypeople both.

Perhaps not, said veteran Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg.

But he offered a tip.

“If you aren’t aware of how fast she’s running, pay attention to the two-minute gap behind her,” he said.

In fields loaded with talent, Thomsen can’t be touched. No one comes close.

Full disclosure: My son ran on the junior varsity squad for Montgomery this season. But anyone who feels like a glowing review of Thomsen or her teammates is born of pro-Viking bias hasn’t seen Thomsen or her teammates run.

As a sophomore, Thomsen is already a state champion in track, and next week, she’s looking to repeat as state champion in cross country.

On the verge of the North Coast Section cross country finals Saturday in Hayward, she’s played a massive role in the emergence of the Montgomery girls squad as a force to be reckoned with.

If they run like they have all season, the Vikings — a team as youthful as they are fast — are almost a lock to win a team berth to the CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno Nov. 26.

“At the beginning of the season I knew we had a chance to qualify for state,” Vikings coach Melody Karpinski said. “At our summer cross country camp, I said, ‘This is what it looks like, this is what I think you are capable of.’”

They have risen to that challenge.

First, they won the North Bay League title, which in these parts is no easy feat.

On Nov. 5, the Vikings broke Maria Carrillo’s two-decade run of league titles. In 2010, Santa Rosa shared the pennant with Carrillo, but other that it’s been all Carrillo all of the time.

No longer.

But you don’t hear Fogg complaining. If it means more people drawn to the sport, more people lacing up running shoes to join and enjoy the excitement that can come with rivalries and parity?

Fogg is all for it.

“It’s just one of those things where, ‘OK, somebody took this from you. OK let’s fight to get it back,’” he said. “It will be good to see more local competition.”

Plus, his boys squad secured their 10th straight NBL title, so there’s that.

But this Montgomery girls team is going to be around for awhile.

Led by Thomsen and paced by two more super sophomores — Seelah Kittelstrom (who also qualified for the state meet as a freshman) and Amrie Lacefield — as well as resurgent senior Hope Martin, the Vikings feel like they are just getting started.

Kittelstrom and Lacefield are now tied for 19th all-time on the Spring Lake Course for sophomores.

“The arrival of Seelah and the emergence of Amrie and the return of Hope has made them a real force,” longtime Santa Rosa coach Carrie Joseph said. “I’m excited to see what they can do.”

Case in point: At one point, early in the season, I was chatting with a runner from a competing school.

Talk turned to the Montgomery girls squad and to Thomsen in particular.

I wasn’t taking notes, but what this guy, a successful senior on a successful team, said was that he essentially considers himself lucky to share a course with Thomsen and the Vikings.

She’s that mind blowing.

“Hanne has the potential to be the best runner ever to come out of this area, which is saying something given the runners that have come out of this area,” Joseph said.

“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete,” Karpinski said.

Let’s look.

At the NBL finals Nov. 5, Thomsen moved to second all-time on the Spring Lake Course, six seconds off Julia Stamps’ record set in 1995. For context: Stamps became a national champ before running at Stanford.

In record books vigilantly updated by Jim Crowhurst at Redwood Empire Running, Thomsen is now ahead of Amber Trotter, who was also a national champion and ran for Middlebury College. And ahead of Sara Bei Hall, another Viking, national champ and Stanford alum and a runner who continues to shine on the global running stage.

And she’s ahead of Kim Conley, another celebrated Viking who ran her way onto two U.S. Olympic teams.

Although cross country is harder to quantify than track in part because of course differences, Thomsen is in the top 10 nationally, and in both the 2-mile and 5K, ranked No. 1 in California on a cadre of cross country websites.

P.S. That’s just cross country. Check back during track season.

But up next is Saturday’s North Coast Section meet, where the Vikings will challenge to earn a team berth to the state meet in Division 3 along with perennial local contenders Maria Carrillo.

Carrillo’s dominance in running is such that their entire schedule, training and belief system is that both the boys and girls squads will advance to the CIF state meet next week.

“We don’t just expect to go to state; we expect to get top 10,” Fogg said.

On the boys side for the Vikings, Karpinski has recent Cal Poly-signee Jude DeVries, who is another showstopper.

The senior is ranked No. 1 in the section in the 2-mile, sixth in the 5K and 11th in the 3-mile, according to at least one cross country ranking.

Even so, Karpinski doesn’t put a ton of weight in those stats. What she looks at is DeVries’ competitiveness and will to win.

“He’s going to battle for the title at NCS,” she said. “He’s going to battle and my money is on Jude because he’s my kid. Jude wants it and he’s totally capable.”

And DeVries knows what it takes to make it to state — he made it last year.

As if folks needed more talent to seek out Saturday, be on the watch for both the Sonoma Academy girls and boys teams.

The Coyotes, along with Middletown on the girls side, are in the mix for advancing full squads in Division 5 to the state meet.

But the Montgomery Vikings are the story of the season.

And even the Vikings’ competitors are cheering their rise.

“I’m excited for Montgomery, I’m excited for Mel. I’m hoping it spurs interest in our sport,” Joseph said.

It’s said a rising tide lifts all boats. When one school, one team, has a crop of special athletes — or in Montgomery’s case, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime great — perhaps it brings more eyes to a sport that sometimes runs out of sight.

Do yourself a favor and see these athletes while you can.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

Where and how to watch NCS cross country finals

A slew of local athletes are competing in the North Coast Section cross country finals Saturday at Hayward High School. General admission is $7. Races run as follows:

Division 4 girls: 8:30 a.m.

Division 5 girls: 9 a.m.

Division 4 boys: 9:30 a.m.

Division 5 boys: 10 a.m.

Division 1 girls: 10:30 a.m.

Division 2 boys: 11 a.m.

Division 3 girls: 11:30 a.m.

Division 1 boys: 12 p.m.

Division 2 girls: 12:30 p.m.

Division 3 boys: 1 p.m.

Source: www.cifncs.org

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