Top returners in the Northern Section includes (from left) Sophie Sims and Grace Gaddy on the girls side and Mario Giannini (right) for the boys. (Photos by DeAnna Turner and Patrick Corsinita)
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If any of California's 10 CIF sections are to have a cross county season this winter, it would seem the Northern Section would have the best chance. While COVID-19 restrictions have the entire state in limbo as it relates to a return to play for high school athletics, counties across the vast Northern Section haven't had the impact from the virus as has much of the rest of the Golden State.
While most of the counties do remain in the state's widespread (purple) tier, the NS is not restricted by stay-at-home orders nor does it have the ICU capacity issues that are plaguing many parts of the state.
However, even though the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), in its return-to-play guidelines outlined last month, listed cross country among the few sports eligible for competition even if a county is in the purple tier, that is just one of the challenges of returning to competition.
Scott Fairley of West Valley High School and the Northern Section Track/Cross Country Chairman and Meet Director said section organizers are still awaiting answers from CDPH but is hopeful of having meets in several counties "by the first of February."
"Since the northern part of our section is not under the Regional Stay at Home Order, we hope those counties can begin competition right away," Fairley wrote in an email. "We are working with the local county health departments to allow multi-school cross country meets within counties and bordering counties."
Fairley said that one of the challenges in the NS is that "almost all leagues" have schools across multiple counties. "Many of those counties do not border each other. So, we may need to scrap the league schedules and simply offer cross country meets for schools within a single county."
Fairley said he is hopeful the section will have clarity in the next couple weeks in time to start organizing meets.
For the 2020-21 season the Northern Section expanded to an additional small school division, adding Division 6 to the sections usual D-3, D-4 and D-5. One of the section's top cross country schools, University Prep, a three-time girls champion in D-4, will now compete in D-5 based on enrollment. Had the state not previously announced the cancelation of the CIF-State Championships for this year, University Prep would have been among the team's to watch among girls in State D-V.
When talking about the Northern Section, it's important to remember that the section runs just two qualifying races at its championships -- one boys race and one girls race over a 3-mile course on and adjacent to the West Valley High stadium. The races are scored altogether, regardless of division, and then broken out by divisions to determine champions and, in normal years, State Meet qualifying teams and individuals.
Preview text below makes multiple references to athletes' overall placing at the section's all-division championship race.
NORTHERN SECTION GIRLS PREVIEW
Chico returns six of the top 23 from the 2019 all-division championship race, led by junior Sophie Sims, who was fourth across the line in 2019 and is the No. 3 returner from that meet. Whereas the 2019 title came down to a narrow finish between Chico and Foothill Palo Cedro, the latter was a senior-dominated squad whereas the former is young and talented.
Joining Sims for Chico are sophomores Una Griffith, Iresh Molina, Grace Becker (293 at right) and Della Molina, plus senior Amanda Harris. Griffith was seventh overall at the 2019 final and is the No. 4 returner in the section. Harris was 15th and is a top-10 returner in the section. Iresh Molina was 19th, among 13 top-20 returning girls in the NS. Chico competed at the 2019 CIF-State Meet, placing 14th in Division III among 24 teams. Sims, Griffith, Harris and Becker each scored at State.
Chico also had four of the top six finishers in the Open 2.x-mile short course race, also held the same days as the NS Championships. Dorothy Clem, a rising sophomore, was a 24-second winner over rising senior Natalie Bader of Foothill Palo Cedro. Rising seniors Calle Anderson, Mia Caldera and Aisha Camara placed 3-5-6 overall for Chico.
The overall team finish at the 2019 all-division champion went Chico, Foothill, University Prep, Shasta and Sutter.
Three-time CIF-NS Division IV champion University Prep, based in Redding, returns five of the top 31 girls from the 2019 all-division championship race, including the top two in senior Grace Gaddy and junior Becca Gaido (pictured at right). The Panthers move into Division 5 for the 2021 winter season.
Gaddy placed 22nd in the State Division IV race and is the No. 14 returner from that race. Her time of 18:44.30 would rank her as the No. 8 returner in Division V. Gaido was 48th in 19:12.70 and would rank as the No. 14 returner in D-V.
The trio of seniors Serena Tate, Meagan Saunders and Hannah Cusworth puts the Panthers in position not only to win the section's small schools title but also rank among the best D-V teams in the state. Tate was 11th in the 2019 final and is the No. 5 returner overall. UP and Sutter earned the two NS spots in the Division IV race at the State Meet placing 15th among 24 schools.
Shasta returns four of the top 41 from the race led by senior Kaili Crye, who was 13th and sophomore Madeline Bailey, who was 28th. Other top returners are junior Hailey Vara and senior Terrina Carrier.
Another team loaded with returners is Sutter, with three of the top 25 from 2019 and seven of the top 50 overall. Sophomore MacKenzie Ritner, 17th in that race, leads the group which includes two sophomores, two juniors and three seniors. Kaylynne Turner, 24th in 2019, leads the senior group. Ritner was the top freshman in the NS last season.
Other top-20 returners from 2019 are Anjanessa Ward, a senior from Orland who was 12th, Giselela Cruz, a junior from Enterprise who was 18th, and Jenna Justice (601 above), a sophomore at Etna, who was 20th. Etna won its first CIF-NS Division 5 title, earning the section's lone bid to compete at the State Meet where Justice was one of 12 girls in the Class of 2023 to place among the top 70 in the Division 5 championship.
NORTHERN SECTION BOYS PREVIEW
In 2019, Chico rolled to a 34-point victory over Shasta to win a fourth consecutive CIF-NS D-3 title and 15th dating to 1973. One of the leaders of that victory is defending section champion Mario Giannini, now just a junior, and one of the top returners across the state.
Giannini was 19th overall in the Division III race at the 2019 CIF-State Championships in leading Chico to an eighth-place finish among 24 teams. He is the No. 5 returner from that race.
Giannini is among four returners for Chico who placed among the top 20 overall at the 2019 NS all-division championship race. That group includes rising senior Liam Sehorn (305 at right next to graduated senior Andre Mota), junior Benjamin Wun and senior Jack Hervey.
The future is very bright for the Panthers, three of the top 10 from the Open 2.x-mile race, are all rising juniors -- Avery Munson-Clark, who was second (to teammate and now-graduated senior Grant Joyner), Mason Nelson, who was third, and Nate Solecki, who was eighth.
Shasta also returns four top finishers from that section final in seniors Thomas MacLean and Noah Herman, and juniors Dylan Jackson and Tyler Dutro. MacLean and Jackson placed fifth and seventh, respectively, in 2019, and are the Nos. 3 and 4 returners overall in the NS.
Mt. Shasta junior Drew Hering (1122 at right) was fourth overall in 2019 and is the No. 2 returner behind Giannini.
Senior Gideon New leads a trio of top returners for University Prep, the 2019 Division 4 champion and a State Meet qualifier. He was 15th in 2019. Senior Connor Davainis was 23rd and junior Isaiah Feaver was 24th.
Junior Tyler Moss (374 at right) is the top returner for Colusa, coming off its first NS Division 5 title and a State Meet berth.
Other top-40 returners include Brandon Colter, a senior at Winters, who was 14th, Ryan Mitchell, a junior at Weed, who was 17th, Mathew Garcia, a senior at Willows, who was 21st, Holden Navarro, a senior at Trinity, who was 22nd, Hagen Worden, a senior at Las Plumas, who was 32nd, Branden Taylor, a senior at Fall River, who was 35th, and Elijah Magrini, a sophomore at Enterprise, who was 37th.
Other top-10 returning finishers from the Open race are Charles Taylor, a rising sophomore at West Valley, who was fourth, Joshua Santiago, a rising sophomore from Las Plumas, who was fifth, Camren Barnes, a rising junior from Foothill, who was sixth, and Tyler Hunt, a rising sophomore from Corning, who was seventh.
RELATED RETURNING NS RANKINGS
Photos by DeAnna Turner and Daniel Tyree.