Empire cross country season off and running with Viking Opener

With this week’s rainfall and comfortable morning temps expected Saturday, times in the Viking Opener are expected to be fast - maybe historically so, one coach predicts.

This year’s running of the 2-mile course around Spring Lake and Howarth Park marks the 30th anniversary of the meet, which traditionally kicks off prep cross country league competitions.

The largest-ever field of 44 teams will compete in the unusual class-based races, instead of the typical junior varsity and varsity classifications.

Montgomery coach Val Sell said the midweek rain tamped down any dust on the course, which has dirt, pavement, hills and rolling sections as it weaves though the east Santa Rosa parks.

“It’s a pretty challenging course,” she said. “The rains are going to make it really nice. The morning starts should be very comfortable.”

The gold standard is sub-10 minutes for boys, and under 11 for girls. Only eight male runners have bested 10 minutes and only one girl - Julia Stamps in 1996 - has run under 11, although two others clocked in under 11:10.

Sell and Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche said Saturday’s top male runners could reach that top tier.

“It’d be nice if the guys got under 10,” Courtemarche said. “That’s elite company. I wouldn’t be surprised if all four got under 10 minutes.”

He was talking about two of his leading runners - Daniel Pride and Luca Mazzanti - and El Molino’s Brian Schultz and Casa Grande’s Matt Salazar.

“I would expect some pretty fast times from them, if not the fastest,” Sell agreed.

Maria Carrillo’s Jordan Scobey, hampered early this season with injuries, and several other top Puma runners are competing in a different meet this weekend, Sell said.

Salazar, last year’s Empire runner of the year, may be challenged for top times by Piner’s John Vargas and Nathan Hayes, who placed eighth and ninth this week in the three-mile Spring Lake Regional Park race.

The Viking Opener’s boys divisions are based on high school class, with freshmen competing against other freshmen, seniors against seniors, etc. Because there are fewer female competitors, there are freshman-sophomore and junior-senior divisions.

Sonoma Academy’s Rylee Bowen, the 2014 girls runner of the year who won the CIF Division 5 cross country title as a freshman, is entered but may not compete to give her more rest before the season begins in earnest, Sell said.

Other girls looking toward the 11-minute goal are Santa Rosa’s Delaney White, who posted an 11:57 in last year’s Opener; and two from Piner, Cynthia Rosales and Kassia Chagnon, Sell said.

White’s time last year is the 20th fastest in the Opener.

“I would expect she has a very definite plan on how she wants to do the course,” Sell said. “She will be trying to get mid-11s, but under 12 for sure.”

Santa Rosa’s Sophia Miller and Casa Grande’s Saskia van Ommeren-Egbert are also expected to place well, both coaches said.

“Sophia has been putting in a lot of work this summer,” Courtemarche said. “She always had talent, but has been plagued by injuries. Now she’s healthy and doing things we always thought she could do.”

Kate Bowen, Rylee’s sister, will look to improve on the 11:54 time she posted last year as a middle schooler.

The Opener also includes a crowd-favorite alumni race and a middle school race with more than 300 kids entered.

“The kids love the alumni race,” Sell said. “They get to watch the old geezers out there.”

This year’s meet will also have a serious component, with a donation drive set up for athletic programs in Lake County affected by the destructive Valley fire. A booth will be set up to collect running shoes and gear and money for runners who have lost their homes in the fire, Sell said.

Middletown High School was expected to send a few runners “who just wanted to go do something normal,” she said.

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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