Benefield: Cross country shakeup raises questions
Luis Rosales did not mince words.
Now that the new North Bay League cross country divisions have been settled for next fall and the Oak Division is down to five teams, would the longtime Piner High coach be open to moving to center meets — where all teams show up every time to the same course — rather than the smaller, head-to-head matchups on courses around Sonoma County?
“Hell no. No way,” Rosales said.
It’s hard to blame him. Piner’s home course at Foothill Regional Park is a bear. And that’s the way Rosales likes it.
“Our course is a huge advantage to us. I would be a fool to give that up,” he said. “Our course kicks people’s butts.”
As athletes and teams approach the third season of the new two-division North Bay League, cross country presents a somewhat unique scheduling challenge. The location, format and timing of league competition is more in flux than in other sports because of the nature of the sport and because of how the divisions shook out after the first two seasons.
Luckily, the timing of cross country is such that there is less pressure to find out-of-conference competition at the same rate as, say, football.
In the new divisional configuration, expected to be approved by the North Coast Section alignment and classification committee on Feb. 11, five schools will compete in the more robust Oak Division: perennial favorite Maria Carrillo, along with Piner, Santa Rosa, Montgomery and Windsor — a squad that was elevated from the Redwood Division after winning that league two years running.
In Redwood, the lineup now stands at eight programs: Analy, Cardinal Newman, El Molino, Elsie Allen, Healdsburg, Rancho Cotate, Ukiah and NBL newcomer St. Vincent.
Now to be sorted? Some not-so-insignificant details. The Redwood Division has the numbers for a series of dual and tri-meets, but with just five schools in Oak, NBL commissioner Jan Smith Billing was set to make a preliminary suggestion for center meets, where all teams face off in a mass meet a couple of times a season.
Rosales, for one, is not a fan of that idea. Center meets take away home courses for every team other than those that use Spring Lake Regional Park. And that puts team like Piner at a disadvantage. See above.
You know who does like the idea of center meets? Greg Fogg, the longtime coach at Maria Carrillo. The Pumas have had a yearslong run of success. The boys won the Division 3 NCS title last fall and came in second in the CIF state cross country championships while senior Colton Swinth ran to an individual title.
A self-proclaimed data guy, Fogg said he likes the notion of there being a consistent location for league meets, thereby giving coaches a consistent way to measure runners’ progress.
“Spring Lake is our go-to course. The measuring stick for success is Spring Lake,” he said. “You can compare your time early season, midseason and late season. Call me boring — that is kind of more data-driven type of coaching than ‘Hey, wasn’t that a beautiful course? Didn’t we really enjoy that?’
“Get your variety in your training,” he said.