Double success for Sonoma Academy, Maria Carrillo at NCS cross country championships

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HAYWARD — For the two teams that qualified for the CIF cross country state championship meet next weekend in Fresno, expectations were met despite a bevy of surprises along the way.

Sonoma Academy and Maria Carrillo high schools will be sending both their boys and girls cross country teams to the state meet.

It’s the first time in school history that Sonoma Academy will be sending both teams to state.

“We’re excited,” coach Danny Aldridge said. “It’s a first for Sonoma Academy, getting two teams to state. I came here a while ago to kind of try and build a program. It’s taken a little bit, but now we got it in place and hopefully, year after year, we’ll keep being able to do this.”

Carrillo’s result was a bit more surprising for coach Greg Fogg, who expected to get into state and was happy with the overall result, but felt the team didn’t have its best day on the course.

“We ran a little flat today,” Fogg said. “We aren’t supposed to run fourth; we’re gunning for second or first. We expect to go every year. We’ve got a culture of ‘We expect this.’”

What may be unexpected for some in the Redwood Empire is seeing Sonoma Academy’s Rylee Bowen finish in second place, but that’s exactly what happened in the Division 5 girls race.

Keira Marshall of St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) pulled away slowly after the first mile and didn’t look back, winning by a little over 30 seconds.

“From the beginning, the pace was kind of quick,” Bowen said. “ … I started to lose her maybe around mile two. I dropped from there … I’m happy for her. That’s a really good time for her. I know how hard she’s been working for this.”

That’s a sentiment that was reiterated by Marshall’s coach, Tony Fong, who said that Marshall’s consecutive second-place finishes to Bowen in the past two years at state and in last year’s NCS meet certainly were motivation.

“She hates to lose,” Fong said. “ … She used Rylee as a way to help push her to run faster.”

Marshall said she’s glad she didn’t finish second to Bowen again.

“It feels good. It’s nice that I can look at how far I’ve come and all the training I’ve done and see that I’ve improved each year to get here,” Marshall said. “It was just a combination of me putting in more effort and just trying a lot harder at practices and everything.”

Fong said Marshall gained confidence she and Bowen competed at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic meet in Irvine in September. In that race, Marshall beat Bowen by 36 seconds and finished in under 17 minutes. Marshall finished in 17:08 Saturday.

“That kind of gave her the confidence that she could run in the lead or in the front pack,” Fong said.

“Before, she was just kind of hanging back, hanging back. No matter who was in first, she would just hang back. But now, she’s learned to really take charge and get up there — run her race for the first mile, which is around 5:35, 5:40 pace — and just let it go,” he said.

“She held back a lot, the last couple of years, and I think as a senior, she wanted to go out with a blaze of glory. I think that gave her some extra incentive to go out and go for the win today.”

Having Bowen behind her in second place was perhaps the biggest reason why Marshall never slowed down.

“She knew Rylee was her biggest competition. She knew if Rylee was next to her in the last 400 to 500 meters, should would be in trouble because Rylee has a great kick,” Fong said. “Rylee is a great track runner. Kiera had to go, and that’s exactly what she did. She took it out hard, pushed Rylee.

“Without Rylee, it wouldn’t have pushed Kiera to run that hard. Rylee was a great competitor for her, just to go out and run her race. Otherwise, she would have just kept sitting back.”

Karen Buenrostro arguably ran the race of the day for the Division 3 Pumas, as she finished as the fourth-highest Maria Carrillo girl on the course. Jasmin Hirth ran fifth among the Puma girls after returning from an injury.

“Honestly, I was just thinking of my team,” Buenrostro said. “I don’t want to let them down. I want to step up. I wanted to go to state. They’re my motivation today.”

Hirth, who won’t be able to attend the state meet, just wanted to leave it all out there in her final race of the season.

“I really just wanted to prove to myself that I could run the race and get it done,” she said. “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could have a great end of the season and that I could come back from an injury really well.”

As for individual finishers and qualifiers, El Molino’s Brian Schulz was the highest-finishing Redwood Empire boys athlete who qualified for state, crossing the line second in the Division 4 boys race.

Three other Redwood Empire runners also finished in the top 10 in the same race, earning trips to state: Piner’s Jonny Vargas finished fifth, Kelseyville’s Andre Williams was eighth and Rincon Valley Christian’s Wes Methum finished ninth.

In the Division 4 girls race, Healdsburg sophomore Gabrielle Peterson came in third, improving from last year’s fifth-place finish, to qualify for state. In addition, Piner’s Cynthia Rosales finished fifth and will race in Fresno next weekend

“I think I’ve learned how to race better and I put in more work during the summer. I think it helped my times this year,” Peterson said.

Healdsburg coach Kelly Blanchard said Peterson was tuned in this year.

“Last year she was ‘hoping’ that she would make it, and now it’s just the matter of really committing herself to realizing that she runs with the fast girls now, and really believing in that,” Blanchard said.

Also earning trips to the state meet are Ukiah’s Robert Swoboda, with an 11th place finish in the Division 3 boys race; and Santa Rosa High’s Luca Mazzanti, with a fifth place in the Division 2 boys race.

The state championship meet will be at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday.

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