WALNUT -- It's hard to imagine, but the Eastbay West Regional cross country meet is really nothing more than a qualifying competition.
Right, try to tell that to those hoping to be among the top 10 to advance to next Saturday's national championships at Balboa Park in San Diego.
This is what cross country running is supposed to be like with 24 boys competitors within 10 seconds of each other at the halfway point over on the rugged Mt. SAC 5K course.
The top 10 finishers in each championship race qualified for the national championships next Saturday at Balboa Park where the fastest 40 runners from four regionals square off.
In the boys regional championship, 10 runners separated from the others, with Crater High of Oregon's Tyrone Gorze (pictured) outkicking Francis Parker (SD) senior Kenan Pala, 15:10 to 15:12, for the victory. Pala, coming of a record-setting Division V victory at the CIF-State Championships a week before, is one of four CA boys to advance to next Saturday's Eastbay Nationals.
In the girls' race, Oregon made it a first-place sweep when Lake Oswego's Kate Peters (pictured below) pulled away from Ventura freshman Sadie Engelhardt for a 5-second triumph in 17:19. Peters was the Oregon 6A state champion and unbeaten over 5,000-meters. Engelhardt, second in the Division II race at the State Meet with the second-fastest freshman time ever at the CIF championships, is one of five CA girls who will represent the West next Saturday at Morley Field.
The boys race was especially competitive as the front-running Pala set the pace throughout with Gorze, a junior, right there, often in a large group. The top 10 finishers were separated by just 15 seconds with Big Bear's Max Sannes grabbing the final berth at 15:25.
That was 14 seconds in front of the next runner.
In all, four California boys raced themselves into the national championships with Zach Ayers of Davis (SJ) placing fifth in 15:17, Mark Trammell of Santa Fe Christian (SD) eighth at 15:20, and Sannes 10th.
In the girls' race, Peters came through the halfway point right a second behind Englehardt and steadily gained to win by five seconds.
Acalanes sophomore Olivia Williams, who traded victories with Albany's Sophia Nordenholz all season -- they are 2-2 in head-to-head matchups so far this fall after Williams won at NCS and Nordenholz took the D-IV State Meet title in one of the fastest times in meet history -- scored a four-second victory over the senior, 17:26-17:30, to grab third place, giving California places 2-4. Anna McNatt, a junior from McClatchy and the CIF-State Division I champion, placed eighth, and Peninsula junior Aishling Callanan was ninth, giving CA five of the 10 qualifiers.
Photos by Jeffrey Parenti