Benefield: Maria Carrillo Pumas sweep North Bay League cross country championships

Maria Carrillo's Sydnie Rivas is all smiles as she wins the NBL Cross Country League Championships at Spring Lake Regional Park, in Santa Rosa on Friday, November 10, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)


Under partially cloudy skies that let loose intermittent rains all afternoon, the Maria Carrillo Pumas ran away with both the boys’ and girls’ North Bay League cross country championship banners Friday, leaving nary a window for any other school to make a charge.

The Pumas extended their run of dominance by taking the boys’ team title with 19 points over second-place Casa Grande’s 61. Santa Rosa’s boys got third with 108 points. The girls’ competition was barely tighter, with the Pumas taking the win with 21 points over Montgomery High’s 61 and Casa Grande’s 66.

Maria Carrillo seniors Ben Lawson and Sydnie Rivas both took first place in their respective varsity races.

More frightening still for those who must face future Pumas squads? The junior varsity teams both won with perfect scores.

Head coach Greg Fogg said that since summer camp, his team has been talking about taking the Pumas even further than in years past.

“It’s not just winning, it’s going out and running to the next level,” he said.

Pumas runners showed Friday a glimpse of what that next level might look like next weekend at the North Coast Section meet, where the boys are ranked No. 1 and the girls 2 among Division 3 schools.

In the boys’ varsity race, the Pumas scored with six of the top seven runners. The second-place finisher, Windsor junior Lucas Chung, stood alone among a sea of gold singlets at the awards ceremony, where Puma after Puma came forward to collect medals.

“These guys are great, working with them pretty much 12 months out of the year,” Lawson said of the team. “Every hour spent with them is just something special. As far as the team, they deserve this. We win this not just as varsity boys, but this is a Maria Carrillo cross country win.”

Lawson, who finished on a muddy course in 15:39, had to fight off Windsor’s Chung, who finished with a personal best and school record of 15:41.

“Boy, he’s faster than I remember,” Lawson said. “He’s a fighter, but I had something in me extra today that I went for and I just dug it out and I think if he had it that day, he would have gotten me.”

Chung said he was pleased with his PR and school record, but disappointed not to take the win. But he credited the battle with Lawson for bringing out his personal best.

“It was certainly stressful, but it was also beneficial to me,” he said.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “I think I started kicking too soon.”

On the girls’ side, an equally close battle was brewing between teammates Rivas and junior Aimee Armstrong, the Pumas’ one-two punch all year long. Except that it was usually Armstrong who came out on top. Not Friday. Rivas ran away with the win in the final stretch to win the title her senior year.

“Since this is my last race here, I might as well just go for it and surge ahead,” Rivas said. “Going down the last big hill, I tried to sustain that.”

Rivas, who finished in 18:05 to Armstrong’s 18:51, said that racing a teammate brings out the best in both competitors.

“We practice together every practice, so it’s nice knowing that there is someone who is exactly the same pace as you. It was definitely comforting having her side by side with me the whole race,” she said.

Armstrong, who came into the race ranked fourth in the section to Rivas’s fifth, was in obvious physical discomfort at the finish line.

Fogg estimated it was 400 yards from the finish when Armstrong hit the wall.

“Your body is just done,” he said, adding that Armstrong finished despite her struggles. “I can’t say I’ve ever been that brave. Big props to Aimee.”

Fogg said that Friday’s performance is just a step toward what the Pumas want to do with the rest of their season.

“North Coast Section is our focus, but the NBL (title) is on our path,” he said.

Like just about every other competitor on that path Friday, the Pumas sprinted right on past toward their next goal.

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