Benefield: Rain can't dampen spirits at Santa Rosa track and field tri meet

The timing of the meet wasn't great and the weather certainly wasn't great, but Santa Rosa High track and field co-coach Doug Courtemarche couldn't have looked happier Wednesday evening.

His shorts were soaked through from rain that wasn't forecast to fall and Santa Rosa's scoring equipment, computers and paper tally sheets were soaked, but the veteran coach didn't need any of that to know that the Panthers' girls squad had knocked off perennial champs Maria Carrillo in a head-to-head tri meet that will likely determine which squad wins the North Bay League-Oak Division team title.

In a tri-meet format, it was Santa Rosa, Maria Carrillo and Montgomery battling it out Wednesday. Although three regular-season meets remain, the teams that duked it out in the rain Wednesday are the clear favorites, so a win put teams in the drivers' seat.

That meant the Panthers on the girls' side and the Maria Carrillo Pumas on the boys' side.

In 2013, the Maria Carrillo girls won the regular season and Santa Rosa won the North Bay League championship meet. According to local track whiz Jim Crowhurst, before Wednesday the Puma girls had not lost a dual or tri meet since 2003.

“We wanted to win. There was no question about it. So we did everything we possibly could regardless of what meet we have coming up or what we just came from,” Courtemarche said. “This was the more important meet for us.”

But there was clearly a weird timing piece to Wednesday's much-anticipated showdown.

The meet fell the weekend after the rigorous and highly competitive Stanford Invitational and two days before the Arcadia Invitational in Southern California, a national-caliber meet that elite members of each team will compete in. So there was some strategizing about which athletes competed in which events Wednesday, and which ones would try to save some energy for the weekend.

Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg made some tactical choices with his athletes en route to yet another win for his boys squad. Even though he also showed a different lineup than he might usually on the girls side - holding out big names like Aimee Armstrong, Jasmin Hirth and Nicole Morris, who are all running a distance relay Friday at Arcadia - none of it mattered in the end in the face of Santa Rosa's depth and talent, he said.

“I don't want to make it sound like we could have won today. Santa Rosa has a deep squad, they have a talented squad and in a bummer for us, they have a young squad,” he said. “They are going to be around for a while to contend with.

“Santa Rosa totally has it this year. Kudos to the girls; they're legit,” he said.

Legit is one way to describe Santa Rosa's freshman sprint sensation Kassidy Schroth. She won both the 100 and 200 meters, in 12.8 and 26.2 seconds, respectively, to collect some key points for the Panthers.

“We are thinking this is the closest meet in league and so every point counts,” she said.

In the 200, the Panthers took first and second, with senior Izel Zamora coming in just behind Schroth at 26.6 seconds.

“Izzy got second and that's amazing,” Schroth said. “The girls, we are pretty solid. I'm really excited about the season. I think we are doing pretty well.”

And Zamora pulled in more points for the Panthers with her win in the 400 meters. She didn't set a personal record, but she was plenty pleased Wednesday.

“I'm very, very happy that I helped - especially in a dual meet against both Carrillo and Monty, every point counts,” she said.

And her performance was even more noteworthy because Zamora has not competed in weeks.

“I'm very happy because I haven't raced in a month,” she said. “It's good to be back.”

In field events, Santa Rosa senior Caitlin Grace crushed the competition in discus in tough conditions for throws, launching a 119-foot heave. Second place went to a fellow Panther, junior Kendall Schroth, who went for 92 feet.

“It's huge,” Grace, who competed at Stanford and will travel to Arcadia, said of the team win. “I was so ready to get the win, just so ready.”

While the Panthers put up big numbers on the girls side, nobody could touch the Maria Carrillo boys, who, even while tinkering with lineups, could not be beaten.

Puma senior Will McCloud is returning from injury, so he was pleased to get a win in the 400 meters. He clocked in at 52.1. Putting players in different positions worked well for the Pumas Wednesday, he said.

“We are a pretty deep team,” he said. “We are kind of used to kind of running around the same times, so it's not too bad missing some of the guys. But it's good to allow those guys a little bit less distance, a little bit less race so we have some nice solid times when we get to the big meets like Stanford and Arcadia.”

Pumas junior Pierce Kapustka said he was going for points Wednesday in his win in the 800 meters but also had his mind on this weekend. He finished in 2:05 for first place but well off his best from last season: two minutes flat.

“My plan was to win, obviously,” he said. “I did what I needed to do.”

“I definitely tried to make it tactical to save my legs … for Arcadia because I'm running the mile there and I'm trying to break 4:20 there,” he said. “I was definitely trying to save my legs.”

In the 1,600 meters, Santa Rosa junior Andrew Engel had to outlast a pack of Pumas to win in 4:39. The next four runners to cross the line were Pumas - even if they weren't the Pumas he normally races.

“I'm a little sad they are holding some of their guys back, but I understand though,” he said. “It's always fun to compete, especially with those guys - they can all do great things. It's nice having some real good competition.”

That said, he was pretty pleased to get the victory.

“The last few races have been pretty tough,” Engel said. “It felt nice to come back and get a win today. Being able to start it off with these guys and knowing I can run pretty well, it makes me really excited for the rest of the season.”

The warhorse award of the day went to Montgomery senior Leah Haley. She won the 800 meters in 2:25, the 1,600 meters in 5:26 and the 3,200 meters in 12:13.

“Busy day,” she said, all smiles.

In one of the odder moments of the meet, Santa Rosa High freshman Alex Manning won the 110-meter hurdles in the JV race completely unopposed.

“Nobody else showed up,” he said, fresh from his victory. “It was like last call and I'm like, ‘Where is everybody?'”

He said the lonely sprint to the finish line didn't really affect his effort. He crossed the line in 16.62.

“I'm just basically racing against my time, so I just decided to run as hard as I can even though there's nobody here,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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