Benefield: Maria Carrillo boys set sights on state cross country meet after NCS win


From the outside looking in, it seemed like a heckuva gamble.

The Maria Carrillo boys cross country team, a favorite to win the extremely loaded Division 3 North Coast Section team title Saturday at the championship meet at Hayward High School, made what looks like, to the uninitiated, a risky move: They trained last week not for a huge meet Saturday but for a huge meet a week from now.

What does that mean to you and me? It means they didn’t back off much in training last week, putting in big miles of work and then waltzed onto the Hayward High campus and ran the risk of having tired legs for one of the biggest meets of the season.

But it’s not the biggest, and that’s the whole point. The state meet is the biggest and since, well, forever, the state meet has been the Pumas’ goal.

It was a risky strategy, but Pumas coach Greg Fogg believes he had the horses to make it work.

They proved him right Saturday as they ran away with the team title and gave themselves a huge boost of confidence heading into the CIF state cross country championships next Saturday in Fresno, where their goal is to win it all.

“We came, we saw, we did what we were supposed to do and now we are ready for next week,” Fogg said.

“I think their legs are still heavy. They still are doing pretty decent mileage,” he said.

If they were heavy, few noticed.

The Pumas ran to a coveted section title, their first since 2017, fending off perennial contender Campolindo High.

“We are still trying to save it for the big bang and that’s next week,” Fogg said. “We’ll see. I think they executed real comfortably today.”

It looked pretty much as the Pumas drew it up.

Senior Colton Swinth raced to a second-place finish behind Campo junior Dylan Gunn. Swinth’s 15:10 was the fastest local time of the day.

“I’m surprised and happy for (Dylan Gunn),” Fogg said. “He raced a really good race. Colton has a great kick. For him to pull away from Colton is impressive.”

Up next was senior Rory Smail in fourth at 15:19, senior Pierce Kapustka in fifth at 15:26, senior Omar Alvaredo-Hernandez in sixth at 15:28, junior Simon Peterson in 11th at 15:41, sophomore Jacob Donahue in 14th at 15:48 and senior Patrick Philip in 34th at 16:24.

“It means a lot for us to get the team title on tired legs,” Swinth said. “We just really want to have that state title. (It’s been) our goal the whole year.”

“It’s a lot of confidence going into next week knowing that when we actually cut down miles, have a whole week off for Thanksgiving break and get some sleep and everyone gets healthy, that’ll be awesome,” he said.

“We definitely know we can run with the best teams in the state,” he said.

Smail said the front pack of he and Swinth and Campolindo’s Gunn and Alex Lodewick was a battle.

“To be able to come out on top against such a great program like Campolindo, to be able to do that with tired legs? It just means a lot,” he said. “It means a lot for next week, when we are going to be tapered and off our legs a lot. It definitely gives us a lot of confidence.”

The team has long held November as the magic month. The team win Saturday was great and all, but it’s just the next rung on the ladder, Fogg said.

“We are really focused on next week. Like really hard-core focused on next week,” he said.

So, too, is the girls’ squad. The Pumas finished third in the ?section, securing a spot to compete as a team in Fresno next Saturday.

The Pumas were led by sophomore Ashley Busienei, who finished in 10th at 18:21.

Next was junior Nicole Morris in 17th at 18:44, senior Jasmin Hirth in 20th at 18:54, freshman Avery Heddon in 30th at 19:27, senior Avery Damron in 46th at 20:21, freshman Brooke Cregan in 47th at 20:24 and freshman Ella Chong in 62nd at 20:51.

Fogg had to do some pre-race fiddling because of injuries, he said.

“I’m running a little bit off our roster,” Fogg said. “We have two girls I want to put back in the lineup, but it all depends on how they are doing.”

But Fogg credited Busienei with picking up her game at just the right time this season.

“Every workout she looks stronger, better. She’s in a really good place,” he said. “I told my top two, Nicole and Jasmin, you should get used to the view of Ashley but kind of the back of her head. It might be happening pretty soon.”

Busienei, who will make her first trip to the state meet, was all smiles.

“I’m really excited. This is awesome,” she said. “I think the team did really well.”

And Fogg hopes that with a little recuperation time over the coming six days, the Pumas can do even better in Fresno.

“Jasmin is a little off today, Nicole is a little off, Ashley is finding her groove,” he said. “They’ll get it together at state. That’s a great 1-2-3 punch.”

And as far as his boys team goes, he thinks there is yet more in their legs.

“The times were not as fast as what we were expecting - these kids are ridiculous fast,” he said. “I get a feeling they’ve still got it sitting in their legs and they’ll let it out.”

The November master plan continues. All bets - and gambles - are off.

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