Girls prepare to race at the 2018 CIF-Northern Section Championships. (Credit: Jeffrey Parenti, file)
This report was updated Nov. 16 at 1:50 p.m. to update State Meet qualifiers.
When the difference between a section title and a ticket to the State Meet comes down to just two points, every extra kick, late burst of energy, and exaggerated lean at the finish could make the difference.
For the Chico High girls cross country team, it very well may have been those subtle executions that made such a difference on Thursday at the CIF-Northern Section Championships held at West Valley HS in Cottonwood.
Chico's girls beat Foothill of Palo Cedro by two points to claim the Division III title, capturing the only State Meet qualifying spot in the top enrollment-based division in the NS.
It was much easier for Chico's boys, behind a 1-2 finish by sophomore Mario Giannini (16:12.73) and senior Hunter Dougherty (16:33.02), the new-look Panthers easily outpointed Shasta 38-72 to earn the lone NS ticket in D-III to the CIF-State Championships to be held on Nov. 30 at Woodward Park in Fresno. It was the fourth consecutive CIF-NS D-III title for Chico and 15th dating to 1973.
The Northern Section runs just two qualifying races at its championships, one boys and one girls over the 3-mile course on and adjacent to the West Valley stadium. The races are scores altogether, regardless of division, and then broken out by Divisions III, IV and V. In Divisions III and V, only the top team advances to State and up to five individuals not on the qualifying team who finish among the top eight among other runners in their respective divisions. For Division IV, two teams advance and up to five individuals not on qualifying teams who finish among the top 12 runners from their division.
For the Chico girls, however, it was every bit a nail-biter. And that's consistent with the recent history between Chico and Foothill. Heading into the meet, Chico had beaten Foothill a couple times during the season only to have Foothill turnaround and win the league title.
The Chico tandem of senior Nakia Clements (19:37.01) and sophomore Sophie Sims (20:06.15) went 3-4 just ahead of the Foothill duo of seniors Claire Durbin (20:08.18) and Zoey Bishop (20:14.06) in fifth and sixth. Chico sophomore Una Griffith was seventh, just 0.72 behind Bishop but 5.52 seconds ahead of Foothill's No. 3, senior Emma Flynn (20:20.30).
At that point it was Chico 14, Foothill 19.
And then Chico junior Amanda Harris crossed with a PR of 21:02.24 between Foothill's Nos. 4 and 5, sophomore Emily Murray (21:01.14) and senior Rize Oliveira (21:07.48) to give Foothill five in at 49 points with Chico at 29 and one runner to finish.
That runner was sophomore Iresh Molina crossing in 21:33.27 and 18th place among scorers to secure the victory. Neither Harris nor Molina ran in the qualifying race a year ago, both were relegated to the 2.2-mile Open race, also held at the championship meet.
Speaking of improvement, Clements ran 21:32.06 at the NS Championships a year ago and comes back with a 1:55.05 year-over-year drop on the same course to lead her team to the State Meet.
It was the first large-school division title for the Chico girls since ending a run of 11 in 12 years in 2015.
It was an impressive year-over-year turnaround for the Chico boys, which placed seventh at State last year with a senior-dominated lineup. Senior Alan Nava, the only non-senior to take the line at State for Chico last year, placed 10th overall here in 16:56.04. Giannini, the younger brother of two-time section champion Charlie Giannini, won the 2.2-mile Open Division race as a freshman at last year's NS Championships. The other scorers were senior Andre Mota (17:20.07) at No. 4 and junior Liam Sehorn (17:24.49) at No. 5.
Sutter was a four-point winner over University Prep, 127-131, with both teams advancing. It is the first CIF-NS team title for Sutter. Senior Bryce Harper was 13th overall (17:12.83) to lead Sutter. Junior Gideon New was 15th overall (17:18.12) to lead University Prep.
Individually, senior Marcus Franescut of meet host West Valley was sixth overall and the top finisher among D-IV runners, crossing in 16:49.27. The other individual qualifiers in D-IV are senior Nick Torres of Enterprise (16:54.86), senior Patrick Roehling of Paradise (17:54.00), and the Yreka senior duo of Jade Wilder (17:43.76) and Elijah Higelin (17:44.04). Torres, seventh overall last year, was the top returner from the 2018 finals.
Junior Grace Gaddy and sophomore Becca Gaido were the top two overall finishers and led University Prep to a third consecutive division team title. Gaddy ran the 3-mile course in 19:17.71 with Gaido next in 19:30.11 as UP easily outpointed runner-up Sutter, 66-128. MacKenzie Ritner, the top freshman on the course, was 17th overall in 21:27.92 and the top finisher for Sutter, which grabbed the section's No. 2 Division IV ticket to State.
Individually, junior Anjanessa Ward of Orland (20:47.61), sophomore Giselela Cruz (21:29.66) of Enterprise, senior Alondra Swangler of Paradise (21:42.01), junior Ceiba Cummings of Yreka (22:01.09) and freshman Marisa Doers of Central Valley (22:11.67) qualified for State.
Colusa was eighth overall with 250 points but the top team among the 24 schools with enrollment below 500, earning the solo bid to Fresno. It is the first CIF-NS team title for Colusa.
Individually, senior Alexis Ramirez of Mt. Shasta was third overall in 16:35.21 to win the D-V title and earn one of the individual tickets to State. Teammate Drew Hering, a sophomore, was fourth overall and second among D-V runners in 16:45.93.
Etna was sixth overall with 183 points but the first among D-V teams, earning the lone State Meet bid. It is the first CIF-NS XC team title for Etna and snaps a two-year streak by Durham.
Freshman Jenna Justice was Etna's top finisher, crossing in 21:35.88, 20th overall. Another freshman, Elizabeth Yokel, was 34th overall in 22:30.89, and junior Sami Downey crossed 35th overall in 22:33.12.
Individually, Jennifer Ruiz of Modoc placed ninth overall in 20:27.09 and first among D-V girls to win the division title. Other advancers are sophomore Mikaela Murasko of Durham (22:34.01), senior Ari Sanchez of Pierce (22:40.08), frosh Liliana Rodriguez of Winters (22:49.65), and junior Lauren Farber of Big Valley (23:11.16).