Cross country notebook: Highlights from NCS championships

HAYWARD - With scores of local runners competing at the North Coast Section cross country championships at Hayward High School on Saturday, there were loads of great stories. Here are some highlights:

New record is all McClain's

St. Helena junior Harper McClain ran totally alone in the penultimate race of the day - that is, until she started lapping people. Then she suddenly was racing with others again. McClain did what she was expected to do - she won the Division 5 title, earned a berth to the state meet and she took down the Division 5 course record in the process.

At the start of the day, the record was 17:09, but by 1 p.m. it was 17:03. For perspective? The second-place finisher crossed in 18:01. Coming up? She's hoping to break 17 minutes on the state course. “It's really nice to know that all the work I have been putting in is starting to pay off,” she said.

Gauchos do it by committee

The Casa Grande High boys team is loaded. They know it. But a couple of injuries struck this season and suddenly their campaign to compete at the CIF state championships in Fresno started to show signs of a roller coaster ride. Not on Saturday. The Gauchos roared to a third-place finish in the loaded Division 3 race and secured a team berth to the state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno in a week. The Gauchos nipped Tamalpais High by one point 145 to 146 and Northgate High was at 151 to take fifth - just out of the running to make the state meet.

“We've been on the other end of some of those battles. It feel really good to be on the winning side,” Gauchos coach Carl Triola said.

Junior Luke Baird was the top finisher for Casa, coming through at 16:07 for 20th place. Senior Logan Moon was a second behind him in 22nd place.

“They are all stepping up at certain times,” Triola said. “We've had different kids being our No. 1 runner throughout the season, it wasn't one guy that was always there, and they have all just managed to step up when we needed them. And today it was Luke Baird that just ran out of his mind and it was just fantastic.”

Briceno finally gets state spot

The heartstrings story of the day had to be Montgomery senior Mariah Briceno's race to the state meet. Readers might remember that last year the section meet was canceled mid-meet because of poor air quality from the wildfires in Butte County. Half the races weren't run and entry to the state meet was decided by committee. That committee decided Briceno's times weren't good enough. There were plenty of local run-watchers who disagreed, but that's how it ended. On Saturday, Briceno took away any doubt that she belonged, running to an 11th-place finish in 18:25 and snagging the final individual Division 3 spot for next Saturday.

“Honestly, it means so much to me,” she said. “Last year, we couldn't race because of the fires and it made me more aggressive toward, you know, I want to make it to state this year and I know that I have the potential to make it.”

Freshman sprints to state berth

Victory Christian Academy freshman Jude DeVries is starting to look pretty comfortable with this whole cross country thing. He took up the sport as an eighth grader and stormed to an eye-popping showing at the Master's University Invitational meet in Santa Clarita in September. Since then, he's been making massive gains. He won the Coastal Mountain Conference Championship race and took home the North Central League II title at Spring Lake last week, but apparently that was just a prelude to what he can do.

He raced to a stunning second-place finish in a crowded Division 5 race, edging third-place runner Alex Mader from Lick Wilmerding by a mere 0.2 seconds with a gutsy closing sprint down the last stretch to the finish. “I feel really good. I feel super good,” he said. “I was pushing myself really super hard, trying to get him.”

“It hurt really bad, but it felt really good at the same time,” he said.

Eagle edged out for state

Cloverdale senior Paden Collard came about as close as one could come to punching his ticket to the state meet, but fell short - by 0.3 seconds. Collard, who ran to a NCL I title at the CMC championships last week, was nipped at the line by Thomas Rombach from Bentley Upper, who took the last individual spot for the Division 5 race next week.

Say it with a song

The day started out pretty great - with a serenade. The Santa Rosa High girls were lined up in the first race of the day with the starter's gun set to go off at 8:30 a.m. As teams took their place behind the line, a group of Panthers from the boys squad, perched high on a hill above their teammates, sang out the Santa Rosa High fight song loud enough for all to hear.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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