STATE MEET RECAP - Small School Goes Big at Woodward Park

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FRESNO -- The school enrollment cap for Division V in cross country at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships must not exceed 600 students.

According to the CIF-Central Coast Section website, the enrollment at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough is 356. Of the 139 schools in the CCS, there are only 23 with a smaller student population than CSUS.

And none of those won both boys and girls cross country titles at the CIF-CCS Championships held Nov. 12.

And none of those sent cross country teams to the State Meet.

And none of those in the CCS, or elsewhere in California, won both Division V titles at the 2022 CIF-State Cross Country Championships.

In fact, only one other school in the 35-year history of the California high school cross country championship meet has swept the D-V titles at State -- Flintridge Prep (SS) in 2015.

Coach Albert Caruana's Gryphons got an individual champion in senior Kaiya Brooks while leading the girls team to a 129-131 win over 11-time State champion San Francisco University HS (NC) in the second race of the day, and a stellar effort by the boys team in the fourth race of the day to hold off section rival Menlo for the second time in two weeks, 73-77.

"This is an unbelievable day," Caruana said. "We were very fortunate to be on the right side of both team races.

"Today is an amazing day. I guess it's something you dream about."

Both titles are firsts for a Crystal Springs Uplands program that has been a perennial power in the Central Coast Section. The Gryphons have won eight consecutive CCS D-5 titles on the boys side, and five overall on the girls side. 

While the boys were always considered among the state's elites in the small school division, the girls, well, are an even greater success story. 

"Before the season, I wasn't sure if we were going to have a complete team," Caruana said. "We ended up with eight freshman girls. I brought all the girls to this meet. All 12 of them contributed to our team title."

It was that girls race in the cool of the Central Valley morning on Saturday that was as impressively competitive as any of the 10 championship race on the day. Not only are the SF University girls the winningest program in the history of the CIF-State Cross Country Championships, dating to 1987 (and D-V since 1996), it was also the defending champion from 2021. 

By contrast, Crystal Springs Uplands had never won a State title and only placed among the top five on the girls side three times, and not since 2007. 

None of that really mattered Saturday morning at 9 am when the gun went off. 

With Brooks well on her way to essentially a wire-to-wire victory, the Gryphons had a foundation of which to build a championship. They led at the first mile, but dipped 10 points behind University at the 2.1-mile mark. The final mile would be an all-out sprint for all 10 scoring girls on both sides. 

Brooks closed with a 5:42.5 final mile to win in 17:54.14. Senior Mia Giles was first across for University, in 17th (14th among scoring runners) with junior Lucinda Laughlin one scoring place back. Giles had made up 10 position points over the final mile and Laughlin was plus-7. 

Freshman Anna Salter was next across for the Gryphons, putting up 17 points after a plus-10 final mile, and then another from that stellar freshman class at CSUS, Kira Dye, was two scoring spots back after her own plus-10 sprint.

University frosh Sophia Nichol scored 24, and then sophomore Chapel King put up 33 and University had four across and 86 points to CSUS's three in and 37 points. 

It came down to the Gryphons' final two scorers: Junior Maya Wohl and and freshman Lauryn Fleshman versus University's No. 5, senior Alice Sappenfield.

Wohl made up nine spots over the final mile to cross in 37th among scorers to get CSUS to 74, but Sappenfield crossed with 45 points to give University five across and 131 points. In fact, Uni's sixth, senior Erin Wadsworth was next across behind Sappenfield.

But Fleshman, making up 10 spots over the final mile, crossed in 55th, giving Crystal Springs Uplands 129 points and its first title.

"It was amazing," Brooks said. "So much adrenaline, excitement. As soon as we found out, even unofficially, we were all jumping up and down."

"The girls was a surprise," Caruana said. "I thought we could finish anywhere from first to fifth and we ended up winning by 2. ... These girls really brought it the whole season."

Southern Section champion Viewpoint placed third with 185 and 2019 D-V winner and University rival Lick Wilmerding (NC) placed fourth in 213. 

Coach Caruana and his team had less than an hour to celebrate the girls, catch their breath, and re-focus for the D-V boys race that went off at 10 am. 

"They really set the tone for the day," Gryphons' senior Furious Clay said about watching the girls victory. "We were excited, man. I can't speak for everyone but I was real juiced after that."

Two weeks before, at the Central Coast Section Finals on the Crystal Springs course in Belmont, the Gryphons' boys were a five-point winner over rival The Menlo School. Fast-forward to Woodward Park in Fresno and these two would again be battling for the title, leaving pre-meet favorite Yosemite (CS), and perennial front-runners Lick Wilmerding, and University to battle for top-five positions. 

Menlo took charge early with senior Justin Pretre placing second (and first among scoring runners) in 15:24.56 and his sophomore brother Landon Pretre placing fourth (third among scorers) in 15:34.73. 

Sophomore Benjamin Bouie was first across for CSUS, placing fifth in 15:35.95, followed by Clay (15:46.22), sophomore Tarik Baker in 14th among scorers (15:51.36). 

Menlo sophomore William Hauser was 15th among scorers (16:10.86), and then it was more young standouts for the Gryphons as sophomore Oliver Boesch put up 21 points (16:21.86), and junior Dean Wu put up 24 as the fifth scorer, running 16:27.70. Menlo had the next two scorers across the line but the Gryphons' 32 points would be the division's lowest total, and a rare D-V sweep at the State Meet for Coach Caruana's program.

"It's kinds of exhilarating," Bouie said. "Especially because we set that goal. We communicated with each other, said we want to do this a long time ago. ... For me, and I know for the whole team, it's really amazing to see that come together over the course of this race but also over the course of this season has been really awesome." 

"I saw how (the boys) were running and I didn't even have to look at the score," Caruana said. "We won already. If we got second or third, it didn't matter. The kids ran so well ... yeah, amazing day."

Photo by Daniel Hernandez

Jeffrey Parenti is the California State Editor for MileSplit

Interviewers Ryan Blystone, Daniel Hernandez, and Dan Tyree contributed to this article

Albert Caruana, who has been the head coach of both cross country programs at Crystal Springs Uplands School since 2008, is a regular contributor to MileSplit