2021 CIF-STATE CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
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FRESNO -- In 2016, North Coast Section coaches, led by Dublin coach Chris Williams, proposed a change in regards to their divisions. Instead of having an equal amount of teams in each division, the section decided to align their teams more closely with the Southern Section in order to give them a fair opportunity to compete at the California State Meet. After a few years of solid results as well as a COVID timeout, the NCS teams, and individuals made a huge statement at Saturday's cross country State Meet with a truckload of podium finishes and dominating performances.
The day started with the Division III boys as Campolindo stormed to an early lead at the mile mark. A strong West Torrance (SS) team prevented Campo from repeating as state champions from 2019 but the Cougars scored another team trophy with a second-place finish just ahead of a familiar section foe, Maria Carrillo. The Pumas finished in third place at the NCS MOC meet behind a strong Newark Memorial team that qualified to the State Meet for the first time. The Maria Carrillo boys may have been disappointed with second place in 2019 but surely had to be thrilled with a third place finish this year.
Individually, Tamalpais senor Caden Carney (pictured) followed up his NCS title the previous Saturday with an individual win on the 5K Woodward Park course. Campolindo frontman Rhys Pullen, led the way for the Cougars with a 10th place finish.
The next race was the Division IV boys and the Albany and Archie Williams teams decided to one-up their Division III section mates by taking the top two team spots. Albany making its State Meet debut did the unthinkable by also winning its first State Team title. Archie Williams (formerly Sir Francis Drake) finished a solid second at the NCS Meet Of Champions the week before and followed that up with an even more impressive second-place finish here. Albany junior Sean Morello led his teammates to the team title with a strong third-place finish and 15:09.9 personal best.
In the girls' Division III competition, the Campolindo girls sprinted to the front and eventually hung on for the program's sixth State Meet title overall. That now ties them with Palos Verdes and now only trails Corona Del Mar at seven, Great Oak at eight, Saugus at nine, and University at 11 (more on that team below).
Freshman Hanne Thomsen continued the Montgomery tradition of strong individuals with a State Meet title. In a season where Thomsen's coach, Bryan Bradley, passed away suddenly at practice in August, the high school rookie runner rebounded with league, section, and now State titles. To do it, she had to hold off charging two-time D-III champion Riley Chamberlain to the finish. Chamberlain, a senior from Del Oro (SJ), placed second after winning the division in 2018 and 2019.
Campolindo's Ellie Buckley led the way for the Cougars with a courageous fifth-place finish after being in the hunt for the win for the majority of the race. It should also be noted that fellow section teams Tamalpais and Maria Carrillo finished in fourth and seventh, respectively, in the D-III.
One of the most anticipated individual matchups of the State Meet was the rematch between Acalanes sophomore Olivia Williams and Albany senior Sophia Nordenholz (pictured). Williams outran Nordenholz at the NCS MOC and finished in a scintillating time of 16:15 on the 3-mile Hayward HS course. The State Meet appeared to be a replay of the race the previous Saturday as Nordenholz stormed to the lead with Williams in hot pursuit. One major difference was that Nordenholz maintained the lead the entire way as she muscled her way to the fastest time of the day, 16:46.0. Williams also dipped under the 17-minute mark as she placed second in a time of 16:56.2. The top two NCS teams were Acalanes and Miramonte, which placed fifth and seventh, respectively.
The boys' Division V race this year was unusually fast at the front as 12 boys dipped under the 16-minute mark. Lick-Wilmerding senior Alex Mader (pictured) ran under the previous course record for Division V runners with his 14:56.3 but this year, that was only good for second place. Francis Parker (SD) senior Kenan Pala has been spectacular this year as he roared to a 14:51.0 winning time and continued his undefeated season with his first State title. Mader may have placed second individually but he was also able to celebrate Lick-Wilmerding's first State Meet team title for the boys. A young University team finished in sixth place to record another top 10 finish for the NCS.
With the divisional alignment change, NCS teams are pretty much capped at having two teams qualify to the State Meet from Division I. Despite the lowest amount of teams that can compete, NCS teams have proven to be tough even in the toughest division in the state. This year, the Dougherty Valley girls proved to be quite formidable, scoring 16 points to win another section title. Saturday, Dougherty Valley proved to be the real deal, placing fourth behind three of the best teams in the state, in nationally-ranked Buchanan (CS), Newbury Park (SS), and Oak Ridge (SJ).
Going into the State Meet's Division II race, the Granada boys had the best resume that included a section title the previous week as well as an impressive win over Campolindo at the Rough Rider Invitational in mid-October on the State Meet course. At the mile, Granada's pack had them comfortably in first and that lead continued through the 2.1-mile mark. It took an incredible rally by a determined San Luis Obispo team to keep Granada from the top spot. Nonetheless, placing second at the CIF-State Meet is a great achievement for the Matadors. They were led by senior Roland Ruckmann-Barnes who placed second with a time of 15:22.9. Fellow NCS runners, Oscar Gomez of De La Salle, and Alex Lamoureux of College Park also finished in the top 10 with fifth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively.
Lick-Wilmerding and University are both in San Francisco and have been longtime members of the BCL West League in the NCS. This year, the L-W and UHS girls raced each other multiple times before racing at the league and section final races. Each time, the L-W girls finished ahead of their rivals. At the NCS MOC, the University girls used their regular strategy to chase down the L-W girls but just ran out of time on the 3-mile course. A replay took place Saturday as L-W led early and maintained the lead through 2.1 miles. At the finish, the UHS girls made up the needed points and for the first time this season, passed L-W by three points (100-103) for their 11th State title -- the State Meet record for girls teams. L-W junior Amelie Maltz was the top individual runner for NCS with her ninth place finish.
The last two races of the day were the Division I boys and Division II girls races. The Newbury Park boys steamrolled the field as anticipated but left the door open for a future team to surpass their 16 points they scored to win. The Dublin boys bravely chased the all-time great juggernaut through the mile and hung on for an eighth-place finish. In the Division II girls race, Granada also recorded a top-10 finish, placing seventh.
And there you have it. Quite a day for the North Coast Section as they made claim as the second-best section at the very least and perhaps the unthinkable next season and beyond.
Albert Caruana is a teacher/coach and a frequent contributor to MileSplitCA
Photos by DeAnna Turner, Dan Tyree, and Patrick Corsinita