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Benefield: Winners at crowded cross country meet set new Spring Lake personal records

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Personal records were the theme of the day Wednesday at the first big contest between cross country teams in the North Bay League-Oak Division.

Santa Rosa High junior Andrew McKamey, fresh off of his dominant win on the hilly course of Castro Valley’s Peter Brewer Invitational Saturday, went and crushed his previous best of 16:16 on Spring Lake Regional Park’s 3.05-mile course, clocking in at 15:32. Second-place finisher Patrick Phillip of Maria Carrillo came in at 15:54.

“I got a really big PR, which I think I’m most happy about,” McKamey said. “I have been wanting to break 16 on this course for a while.”

One race later, Montgomery High’s Mariah Briceno did the same. The senior led the race from the gun and cracked the 19-minute barrier, crossing the line in 18:55 for the win. Second-place finisher Nicole Morris from Maria Carrillo finished in 19:08.

“I went out at fast pace,” she said. “The whole time in my head I was like, ‘Somebody’s behind me, I can’t slow down, I gotta keep going.’”

Turns out, she was totally alone at the front the whole race.

It was a crowded meet that wasn’t originally meant to be.

Maria Carrillo was set to host both Santa Rosa and Montgomery last week, but PG&E’s power shut-offs forced the postponement of the so-called tri meet. It was decided that instead of three teams, all six Oak Division teams would square off at once Wednesday so that no school would feel behind on its head-to-head matchups.

The racing part was straightforward. The scoring? Not so much. It was multiple meets in one: Maria Carrillo competed against Montgomery and Santa Rosa, but their times were also put head-to-head with Piner. Montgomery faced the Panthers and the Pumas in the tri meet, but also went up against Ukiah in separate scoring. Santa Rosa had the tri meet but also a head-to-head contest with Healdsburg.

So each team came away with not one result but two. Got it?

In team scoring, Maria Carrillo was the big winner of the day, which was likely of little surprise to run watchers. On the varsity boys side, the Pumas won the tri meet while Santa Rosa came in second, Montgomery third. The Pumas also bested Piner in their head-to-head matchup. After McKamey, the Pumas locked down second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth places: Patrick Phillip (15:54), Noe Vieyra (15:55), Simon Peterson (15:58), Colton Swinth (16:02) and Rory Smail (16:02). Santa Rosa’s Andrew Engel (16:09) took seventh, Healdsburg’s Jack Vanden Heuvel (16:17) was eighth, Santa Rosa’s Steven Grams (16:29) was ninth and Piner’s Jared Hayes (16:36) was 10th.

Santa Rosa’s boys beat Healdsburg and Ukiah’s boys edged Montgomery and Maria Carrillo beat Piner.

The Pumas girls won the tri meet, ahead of second-place team Santa Rosa and third-place Piner. They also beat the Piner girls in the head-to-head contest.

The top 10 times on the day for the girls side was a sea of green and gold, with eight of the 10 wearing Pumas singlets: Nicole Morris (19:08) in second, Ashley Busienei (19:09) in third, Rebekah Taylor (19:13) in fourth, Avery Hedden (19:43) in sixth, Payton McGarva (19:44) in seventh, Jasmin Hirth (19:45) in eighth, Vivien Mattice (20:04) in ninth and Avery Damron (20:09) in 10th. Aside from winner Briceno, only sophomore Olivia House (19:22), who races for Santa Rosa after transferring from Carrillo, was not racing for the Pumas. She finished fifth.

It may have been a knot of times and scores for officials to untangle Wednesday evening, but for the spectator, it was a sea of big names and a sneak peek into what the NBL Finals may look like on Nov. 8 when the North Bay League finals take place on the same course.

“I think we are going to know what to expect from everyone,” Piner coach Luis Rosales said. “We ran against Ukiah and Healdsburg, so we knew what to expect. Santa Rosa, I think it’s the first time we’ve seen them and really competed against them. Really, same thing against Montgomery. Carrillo, I watched then on Saturday. They looked like they were very, very controlled.”

Indeed. Pumas coach Greg Fogg said his instructions on the day were for his top-tier athletes to pace slower Pumas, rather than go for individual times or wins.

“I was shaking them off like, ‘No, you’re good, stay,’” he said. “And then some of the guys went and did a little bit of workout after they were done just to get a good day in and finish up a good week.”

Same thing on the girls side, he said.

“I told them to stay back and pace our girls and I saw them the whole way talking, turning around saying, ‘Come on, you’ve got this,’” he said.

“Nicole and Jasmin had the day off of all-out racing,” he said. “But (hats) off to Mariah.”

Just last Saturday at the Clovis Invitational — the same course that is used for the CIF state cross country championship next month — Morris finished in 18:58, Hirth in 19:08 and Briceno in 19:14.

Turns out Briceno didn’t need company at the front — she uncorked a PR running alone, which is no easy feat.

Unlike Carrillo, Santa Rosa had an entirely different strategy Wednesday. Panthers coach Carrie Joseph wanted to see her kids race and race hard. Any concern she had about their legs being sapped after Castro Valley, a course that is “not for the weak,” was tossed into nearby Spring Lake Wednesday afternoon as the Panthers got after it.

“Technically, we were only racing three teams, but I told them we were racing everybody,” she said.

“I was really pleased with how competitive I saw people being,” she said. “We didn’t give an inch to anybody. They ran tough and smart and aggressive. They rose to the occasion.”

Her boys squad had a particularly impressive outing.

“Seven guys went under 17 minutes,” she said.

The makeup of the meet was good for spectators, but it was also a way for coaches to see what is around the corner for them. Piner’s girls — who the Panthers face next week — were standouts, Joseph said.

“(They) are really good. I knew they were good, but it was good to see them,” she said.

Rosales said his top five girls were all within one minute of each other — showing consistency that should reap rewards later in the season at even bigger meets.

And Carrillo? The general consensus was that they just have athletes for days, it seems.

But next up for Carrillo is a dual meet at Ukiah Oct. 23, while Montgomery travels to Healdsburg and Santa Rosa runs on Piner’s home course.

But after Wednesday’s big meet and big format, no foe should be unfamiliar.

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

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