HAYWARD -- St. Helena High School junior Harper McClain knew she was the favorite. She had planned to just race to a win in the Girls Division 5 race at the CIF-North Coast Section Championships on Saturday at Hayward High.
Then, shortly before her race, she re-evaluated her plan.
"My game plan at first was to just go for an easy win," McClain said. "But I felt like I needed to get a little bit more practice at pushing myself at the end. I just decided maybe 15 minutes or a half an hour before the race that I was just going to go for it and go for the grind and feel what that felt like -- to go fast."
Fast she did go. McClain finished the three-mile course in 17 minutes, 3.7 seconds, the best time of the day and 58 seconds ahead of second place Maya Mason of San Francisco University HS. McClain also set herself up for next week's CIF-State Championships in Fresno.
"With this, I was able to push myself," McClain said. "I kind of doubted myself when I was warming up. I felt, not sluggish. But it was really hot. I felt it was going to be really hard because I'd be up front. But I had to not think about that, deep breathing and just go for it and block everything else out."
McClain wasn't the only runner with an outstanding performance. Miramonte junior Audrey Allen ran away from the pack in the Division 4 race, coming home in 17:27.2, well ahead of Piedmont's Sophia Zalewski (18:05.2).
"It wasn't my PR on the course, which I was a little disappointed, but overall, I thought it was a good race," Allen said. "I went out faster than I had all season, so I'm pleased with that."
Of running by herself, Allen said, "It can be hard because there's not someone right there pushing you. But also, it can be a good thing because it takes a little pressure off and you're able to relax more and just focus on your own race.
"It's definitely harder not having someone there next to you. Which I'm going to get next weekend."
Granada junior Shae Hill had the second-best time of the day, winning the Division 2 race in 17:21.2. It was a PR for her by 20 seconds.
"I knew in workouts that I definitely was having a lot left in me that I really didn't know I had," Hill said. "I came in kind of thinking more about second place, which definitely is not the way to go. I think after the first mile, I really just knew I could win it."
Amador Valley senior Derica Su won the Division 1 race, beating out teammates Hope Bergmark and Ella McCarthy. Bergmark was the defending champion, having won the race last year as a sophomore. But she had spent a good chunk of the season injured and just came back.
Su won in 18:18.0 with Bergmark in 18:20.5 and McCarthy in 18:26.4.
"We ran here two weeks ago at (the East Bay Athletic League championships), so I was familiar with the course," Su said. "I just came out here and did my business. Basically (the strategy was) to run faster than I did last week."
She added that she PR'd on the course by three or four seconds.
"It kind of just happened," Hancock said of her and Buckley breaking away from the pack. "I was really excited, because I had someone to pace off of and go with."
Amador Valley won the Division 1 team championship with 43 points. Dougherty Valley was second with 58. Those two qualified for the State Meet as teams. Individuals who qualified were Pittsburg's Gabriella Hernandez, California's Mia Marsh and Madison Chavez and Dublin's Ashley Yee and Medha Gowda.
In Division 2, Granada won with 50 points, followed by Monte Vista (88), San Ramon Valley (96) and Larkspur Redwood (99). All four qualified for State as teams. Individuals to qualify were College Park's Isabella Alviz and Lindsey Reed, Vintage's Mary Deeik, Irvington's Ellie Branch, Freedom's Kylee Denver and San Leandro's Ariana Chavez.
Campolindo handily won the Division 3 crown with 26 points. Alameda (111), Maria Carrillo (118) and Tamalpais (126) were the other team qualifiers. Individuals to qualify were Las Lomas's Emma Yamamoto, Livermore's Viviana Valenton and Angelina Guzman, Novato's Ali Sutton, El Cerrito's Amelia Stacey, Montgomery's Mariah Briceno, Casa Grande's Emma Baswell and Windsor's Lilja Chung.
Piedmont won the Division 4 team title with 65 points, ahead of Miramonte (80) and Bishop O'Dowd-Oakland (111), which earned the three team berths into the state meet. The individuals who qualified were Marin Catholic-Kentfield's Gigi Clifford, Albany's Sophia Nordenholz, Sir Francis Drake-San Anselmo's Kyla Seeley, St. Mary's-Albany's Jordan Cornet and Acalanes's Nicole Frigon and Lauren Yee.
In Division 5, Lick-Wilmerding took team honors with 38 points. Other state team qualifiers were SF University (59), Head-Royce (125), Urban San Francisco (167), Marin Academy (176) and Convent (188).
Individuals to make it through in addition to the teams were Harper, Oakland Military Institute's Reyna Ho, Sonoma Academy's Lucy Gott, St. Joseph-Notre Dame's Aila Owens and Natalie Perez and Branson's Sage Sanderson.