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Maria Carrillo's Colton Swinth, St. Helena's Harper McClain win state cross country titles

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FRESNO — Bittersweet. That’s the feeling from Maria Carrillo High’s runners following the 2019 CIF state cross country championships at Woodward Park, as the Pumas carved their place into Redwood Empire history but just missed out on their top goal of winning a team title.

The Pumas — who entered as one of the top squads in the Division 3 boys race — were edged out by North Coast Section rival Campolindo in the team race to finish second with 64 points to Campolindo’s 47 points. Senior Colton Swinth took home the individual title, winning in 15:10.2 to become the first state cross country champion from Maria Carrillo. Just behind Swinth was teammate Rory Smail, who finished in 15:22.8 to place second.

On the girls side, St. Helena sensation Harper McClain claimed an individual title in Division 5 to give the North Coast a pair of state individual champions for the second straight year. Healdsburg’s Gabby Peterson and Sonoma Academy’s Andre Williams won state titles in 2018.

For the pair of Maria Carrillo teammates, finishing 1-2 at state is quite literally a dream come true. The two said they have talked about finishing first and second at the state meet for a while now.

“Everything just came into place today,” Swinth said. “It’s what we’ve been working our tails off all year for. Feels so good to come across that line, hearing everybody cheering and realize, ‘Oh my God, it all came together.’ We’ve been dreaming about it for years.

“To get an individual title, followed up with Rory No. 2, I just immediately burst into tears. I was so happy.”

The one-two finish at state is historic in local cross country annals, and the Swinth-Smail combination earned its lofty spot with a tremendous race Saturday.

“They ran very fast today. I’ve seen them do that in workouts before, but it’s hard to pull together in a race,” Pumas coach Greg Fogg said. “They talked about winning, they talked about going one-two — and they backed it up today. So that is an incredible, unreal feeling to see kids talk about scenarios, and actually make them come to fruition.”

Rounding out the rest of the Pumas’ second-place team was senior Pierce Kaptuska in 15th at 15:48, senior Omar Alvarez-Hernandez in 20th at 15:52, junior Patrick Philip in 49th at 16:16, sophomore Jacob Donohue in 62nd at 16:25 and junior Simon Peterson in 67th at 16:29.

Maria Carrillo’s second-place finish is the highest ever for a Redwood Empire boys team at the state meet. Previously, the 2008 Petaluma and 2011 Piner teams held that record with their third-place finishes.

Yes, the Pumas yearned for a state championship. It was talked about all season long as a goal. They aren’t disappointed, though. This team has solidified its standing as one of the best boys teams to ever come from the Redwood Empire. The statistics are there to back it up.

“We’re going to be referring to this race for many years to come and say, ‘Remember that season when Rory and Colton set out and said we can go one-two in state?” Fogg said.

“And they did it.”

Not to be outdone by her local counterparts, St. Helena junior McClain continued her utterly dominant season by winning the Division 5 state title in 17:13.4.

The second-place finisher? A distant 45 seconds behind.

It’s the latest in a string of accolades for McClain, who just last week set the NCS Division 5 record at Hayward with her time of 17:03. McClain now has a league championship, section championship and state championship under her belt — all in her first season of running cross country.

“It’s kinda crazy,” McClain said about her whirlwind of success. “Just a couple years ago, I was super focused on soccer and didn’t really know anything about running. And then coming out here, winning a state title for Division 5 is really, really cool.”

By the first mile, McClain began to pull away from the pack and ran alone for the remainder of the race. Running alone has been a theme at meets this year for McClain.

She used the marketing slogan from Nike, “Finish on empty,” as a motivational tactic.

Normal competitors usually don’t need any added motivation at a meet like the state championships. But McClain isn’t a normal competitor. She is truly one of the elites, and has firmly put herself in the conversation for the state’s top runners.

“I feel like I’ve kinda made a name for myself,” McClain said. “I’m really excited because last year for track, I didn’t have that base that everybody else had from cross country. So I’m excited to have that edge on some people, and adding that to my next path to track.”

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