Sage Creek senior Skyler Wallace (1431), Foothill Tech's Brooke Secrecto (629) and Mayfield's Audrey Suarez (997) were the leaders in the Division IV race. Secreto won and Wallace led Sage Creek to a second consecutive CIF-State title. (All photos by DeAnna Turner)
FRESNO -- When the 2019 cross country season started, the Sage Creek girls from San Diego had specific goals.
First, win league.
Second, win the San Diego Section with the No. 1 team time.
Third, defend their State Meet title while running the fastest team time ever in Division IV (the State Meet expanded to a fourth division in 1990).
Check and double check.
The Bobcats accomplished the final two objectives Saturday when they captured the Division IV championship at Woodward Park with a low score of 44 points while clocking a 3.1-mile team time of 1:30.59 -- decimating Santa Cruz' record 1:33.55 and running more than three minutes faster than the 1:34.05 they clocked in 2018.
Leading the way was Northern Arizona University commit Skyler Wallace, who placed second in 17:48.2. A little bit behind in fourth was another senior, Lavanya Pandey (pictured at right who ran 18:00.6). Finishing sixth was Wallace's sophomore sister Stormy (18:04.6) and ninth was freshman Malia Leupold (18:13.9).
Four in the top 10. Other teams have accomplished that feat but senior Natalie Huestis made sure the Bobcats would win easily over Menlo (121 points) with her 23rd place (31st overall) in 18:51.4.
Coach Jake Fiering said the team accomplished every goal in the race.
"We wanted to win, we wanted to have a fast team time and we wanted our fifth place finisher to break 19 minutes, which Natalie did," said Fiering, who like three of the senior runners won't be returning next year as he and his wife are moving to Seattle.
"Everyone ran a great race -- I really think people underestimated us. Menlo and Orange Lutheran (third with 153 points) were good teams. What a time to have their best effort of the year."
Although Menlo was without senior standout and Duke signee Charlotte Tomkinson, out with a stress fracture in her foot, her presence would not have made up a 77-point gap between the teams.
Skyler Wallace dropped three seconds off her third place finish a year ago and accomplished her goal of beating the 2018 champion, Audrey Suarez, a junior from Pasadena Mayfield. But she couldn't catch Ventura Foothill Tech junior Brooke Secreto, the surprising winner at 17:33.4.
"I couldn't be happier with my time," said Skyler, "The team was super, super. It's better this year because the team atmosphere was so good. I guess you could say they look up to me, but I look up to them."
Skyler said she was surprised when, while sitting in second, Secreto went past her and she couldn't catch up to the strong move with a mile to go. Instead, she tracked down Suarez in the final 100 meters.
"I told the team before the race just to leave it all out there, to not be intimidated by the cold (it was in the 40s during their race)," she said. "I can't express how I feel. It's so hard to repeat because you run all year with a target on your back. There were a lot of quality girls in our division but we still had four in the top nine.
"I'll miss this team a ton."
Stormy (pictured leading at right), who will the leader of the team next year, said although she ran faster a year ago, time was not her goal.
"I told myself this was for the team," she said. "Skyler gave us a pep talk before the race and we couldn't wait to run. I knew this race would produce pain, but we've all had pain before and we know how to handle it.
"The worst part is my hands were numb, but it was no big deal."
Fiering had some bad news for the Bobcats' opponents next year.
"I believe they'll be right back on the top of the stand," he said. "The eighth girl who couldn't run here would have been right up there with Natalie. This isn't the end."