Our next NCS pre-season rankings will be Division IV boys (girls will be posted tomorrow). The radical changes made in NCS last year resulted in a more competitive division here. Last season, the Bishop O'Dowd boys (photo above courtesy of Albert Caruana) won their third section title in school history along with their Division I win in 1995 and Group 1 win in 1957! They outdistanced a game McKinleyville team which finished in 2nd place for the second year in a row. The defending section team champion, Sir Francis Drake, finished in 3rd place. The individual winner was Hercules senior Ryan Cutter (15:13.3) who finished just in front of Arcata senior Kellen O'Neill (15:14.4).
For the upcoming season, we should have a better idea of the leading contenders now that we have seen these teams compete against each other in 2016. We will start with the boys and the favorite at this point is the defending champion, Bishop O'Dowd. They were very impressive at the section meet with their best team effort of the season and followed that up with an 8th place finish at the state meet. They return the best trio of runners (Thomas Murphy 4:36.66/10:02.52, Cole Kretlow 4:36.68/10:05.95 and Spencer Berkins 4:30.52/9:59.18) in the division but will need to replace a couple of seniors from their top 5.
Their competition should come from last year's 3rd place team and the 2015 champion, Sir Francis Drake. They return a bit more than BOD with 4 out of their top 5 but will have to find a way to break up the top 3 runners for the Dragons in order to compete for a section title. They will be led by juniors Cooper McCarthy 4:39.39/9:38.11 and Gabriel Rueter 4:41.10/9:49.02. Sophomore Owen Wolford had a solid track season with 2:02.63/4:45.45 personal bests. Junior Nicco Pompili ran an impressive 1:57.76 at the NCS Redwood Empire area meet.
The chase for the 3rd and final state meet qualifying spot should be led by last year's 7th place team, Piner. They return their entire lineup and will also benefit from teams above them losing strong seniors. Last year's 2nd place team, McKinleyville, will also be in Division V next year. Piner will be led by senior Jonny Vargas 4:34.10/9:43.06 who finished in 5th place at last year's section final.
The race for the individual title will feature the two top returning runners from last year's section final. Muni Kabbara San Rafael 4:20.23/9:38.12 finished in 3rd place last year and will be slight favorite at this point. Piner's Jonny Vargas finished in 5th and is well within striking distance. Reece Proctor Piedmont 1:57.05/4:24.70 finished in 10th last year and will be aiming for a top 3 spot this coming season. The Bishop O'Dowd trio of Thomas Murphy, Cole Kretlow and Spencer Berkins all broke 16 last year at Hayward and will be among the leaders. If you are looking for a wild card in this division, look no further than Miramonte senior James Bull 4:26.50/9:31.88. He finished in 23rd place last year but was quite impressive during the spring track season and will be a definite factor.
In the girls' race, the Miramonte girls enjoyed being back in Division IV by winning their first section title since winning Division III in 2005. Bishop O'Dowd, Piedmont and Justin-Siena were the next three team that all qualified to the state meet. Miramonte sophomore Cassy Haskell won her first individual section title after finishing in second place in Division III in 2015.
For this coming season, the race for the team section title should be an interesting one. The top two teams from last season, Miramonte and Bishop O'Dowd, will be in rebuilding mode. Miramonte returns one runner from their championship team but that one runner is the defending individual champion, Cassey Haskell (2:21.36/5:17.61 season bests). They will need a major influx of talent and improvement from their returning runners but starting out with potentially the best runner in the division is always a good problem to have. The Bishop O'Dowd girls will also be replacing much of their lineup but will have a little more coming back with juniors Isabella Brusco 2:32.55/5:25.30/11:42.96 and Jeneva Toolijan 5:25.30/11:57.98 and sophomore Kalea Fong 2:36.96/5:36.15.
The slight favorite at this point is Piedmont. They finished in 3rd place last year but return the majority of that team (5 out of top 7). They will be led by Margo Donahue who finished in 11th place at the 2016 NCS meet. Justin-Siena finished in 4th place for the 2nd year in a row and will be hoping for at least another top 4 finish. They return 3 of their top 5 including their #1 runner, Hannah Chau 2:29.33/5:20.51. Marin Catholic, Moreau Catholic, Piner and Albany have all been solid teams in this division and could break into the top 5 with a solid summer of training.
The race for the individual title will look very familiar to last season. Cassy Haskell Miramonte won last year but had a very average track and field season dealing with injuries. 2nd place finisher Marissa D'Atri Alhambra (2:11.77/5:07.47/11:34.49) and 3rd place finisher Gabrielle Peterson Healdsburg (2:19.11/4:47.74/10:59.75) both had impressive track and field seasons and will be aiming squarely for the win. 5th place finisher Cynthia Rosales Piner also had an injury riddle season and will look to rebound to past form in the fall. Shelby Nelson Encinal 5:07.35/11:11.92 finished in 7th place and finished this past track and field season in a flurry.
Division IV Boys (Top 3 Advance to State)
1) Bishop O'Dowd-Tough top 3 could led them to 2nd straight section title.
2) Sir Francis Drake-You can make a case for them being favorites above BOD at this point.
3) Piner-Return their entire top 7 from last year and will be aiming for a top 3 finish.
4) Miramonte-4th place last year and could once again could be in the mix to qualify for state.
5) Piedmont-Hoping for top 3 finish after just missing the state meet in '15.
On the bubble: Albany, Marin Catholic, Moreau Catholic
Top 5 returning individuals, (place) and 2016 NCS meet time:
Munir Kabbara (3) San Rafael 15:21.7
Jonny Vargas (5) Piner 15:29.0
Thomas Murphy (8) Bishop O'Dowd 15:54.2
Cole Kretlow (9) Bishop O'Dowd 15:55.9
Reece Proctor (10) Piedmont 15:56.1
Division IV Girls (Top 4 Advance to State)
1) Piedmont-Over past 3 years, they have two titles and a 3rd place finish.
2) Bishop O'Dowd-Mostly new lineup but promising track and field season.
3) Justin-Siena-Have qualified for last two state meets and return 5 from last XC season.
4) Sir Francis Drake-Been on the cusp of making state and will hope to finish here.
5) Miramonte-Defending champions return one runner but defending individual champion.
On the bubble: Albany, Marin Catholic, Moreau Catholic, Piner
Top 5 returning individuals, (place) and 2016 NCS meet time:
Cassy Haskell (1) Miramonte 17:34.8
Marissa D'Atri (2) Alhambra 17:54.1
Gabrielle Peterson (3) Healdsburg 17:55.6
Cynthia Rosales (5) Piner 18:05.2
Shelby Nelson (7) Encinal 18:18.4
Comments? Do you know of impact freshmen that will attend at any of the above schools? Feel free to chime in the comment section below. Did I miss anybody? How would you rank this division differently?