CROSS COUNTRY '22 in REVIEW - Central Coast Section

Senior Kaiya Brooks won both the Central Coast Section and CIF-State titles while leading her team to championships at both meets as part of an historical day for the Crystal Springs Uplands School program. 

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Three Central Coast Section Storylines

Small School Elite Battle - Crystal Springs Uplands and Menlo, two schools in the same mid-peninsula league, proved to be the best two in the state. In four meetings, two in the WBAL, CCS, and State, these two got to know each other quite well. Menlo, led by senior Justin Pretre, and his sophomore brother Landon, won the first league meet in early October, 26-40. CSU pulled even two weeks later in the second league meet, where the score after five runners was 33-33. CSU won the tiebreaker with its sixth runner crossing in 17th, two spots ahead of Menlo's No. 6. At CCS, Crystal Springs won 36-37, and at State, the Gryphons earned the title. 73-77. 

Historical Jaw-Dropper - Perennial large school power Bellarmine College Prep split at 48 seconds and put five across first but the upstarts from Milpitas went 2-3-6-24-26 for a two-point upset. Seniors Alex Althouse and Sahil Raj went 2-3, respectively, juniors Jordan Althouse and Sidhant Burela scored sixth and 24th, and senior Akul Vinnakota was 26th. Bellarmine had six across first, but those 11 points from the top three proved too hard to overcome. To put this result in historical context, Bellarmine has 22 CCS cross country titles, one tie for the championships, and the Belles have placed second 10 other times. Milpitas last won in 1971, its only top-two finish in history listed on the section website dating to 1965.

Warriors Make History - Of the five section championship teams at the CCS Finals, only one program had never won a section cross country title. That was until this fall, when Westmont put two sophomores, two seniors and a junior across the line first to beat St. Ignatius College Prep, 49-67, to win the Division 3 title. Westmont's best previous finish was second place in 1978. Led by junior Shane Dalziel's third-place finish, the Warriors gapped at 64 and averaged 16 minutes for the win. Sophomore Landon Cribari placed eighth, senior Zachary Irwin was 10th, sophomore Aaron Soni was 11th and Senior Ojas Joshi closed out the scoring in 17th. Westmont went on to place fourth at the State Meet, the second-best showing by any CCS boys team champion at State. 

Boys All-Central Coast Section XC Team

Benjamin Bouie (Crystal Springs Uplands/So.) - Runner-up in the D-5 race at CCS in 15:23.7, the No. 6 time in the merge, while leading his team to the section title. Came back the next week to place fifth (15:35.95) while leading the Gryphons to the State Meet title. Won only once in nine XC races but never finished lower than fifth.

Eli Fitchen-Young (Santa Cruz/So.) - Division 4 champion in the CCS (15:24.3) as the No. 3 sophomore at the meet. Placed sixth at State (15:28.3) as the No. 6 sophomore in the merge. He won seven of 10 races with two runner-up finishes. State was the only race where he did not place among the top two.

Evan Markelz (Mountain View/Sr.) - CCS D-1 champion, running 15:09.3, No. 3 in the merge. Placed 11th at State (15:25.51). Won five of eight races with two runner-up finishes. State was his lowest placing of the season despite running his 5K PR in a 31.49-second year-over-year improvement.

Grant Morgenfeld (Palo Alto/Jr.) - CCS D-2 champion in 14:54.1, the fastest time at the meet. Placed 18th at State and closed out his season by qualifying for the Champs Sports Cross Country Nationals where he placed 18th out of 39 finishers. Won four of 12 races with four other top-four finishes.

Trent Nosky (Aptos/Sr.) - CCS D-3 champion (15:23.2). Won four of 11 races and placed second four other times. Was 17th at State (15:56.46).

Justin Pretre (Menlo/Sr.) - CCS D-5 champion (14:58.2) and runner-up at State (15:24.56) while leading Menlo to second-place in both meets. The Cal commit won five of eight races.

Aydon Stefanopoulos (Los Gatos/So.) - Placed fourth in the D-2 race at CCS (15:34.6) while leading Los Gatos to the team title. Came back the following week to place fifth at State (15:14.63), the No. 3 sophomore at the meet. Never placed lower than seventh in 10 races, including one win and five other top-four finishes.

Boys Team of the Year

Crystal Springs Uplands - Coach Albert Caruana's Gryphons have now won eight consecutive CCS D-5 titles and 11 since 2008. This one, as outlined above, was the result of iron sharpens iron, as CSU was pushed by Menlo from early October until the end of November. In the section final, it was sophomore Benjamin Bouie placing second, senior Furious Clay and sophomore Tarik Baker going 4-5, sophomore Oliver Boesch placing 10th and junior Matthew Morris running No. 5 scoring 11 points as CSU won the merge at CCS in a tiebreaker over Westmont. At State, Coach Caruana said he saw how well the team was running early and knew it would be a great result. Indeed it was. They gapped at 51 seconds, averaged 16 minutes and placed eighth in the State Meet merge. Bouie placed fifth, Clay was 11th (ninth among scorers), Baker brought in 14 points, Boesch scored 21, and junior Dean Wu ran No. 5, crossing in 31st with 24 points. The Gryphons put five across before Menlo's No. 4 for the program's first State title.

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Three Central Coast Section Storylines

A First for M-A - The girls cross country team at Menlo-Atherton had never won a Central Coast Section title. Had never even placed second. That all changed this November when junior Tatum Olesen led a dominant performance in the Division 1 race on the 2.95-mile Crystal Springs course in Belmont. Despite windy and cold conditions, Olesen roared to an 18:33.5 victory with senior teammates Katie Lorenz (18:44.40) and Chloe Pilette (18:49.30) the next two across the line. Junior Annie Pflaum was fifth (18:53.80) and junior Cleo Rehkopf was eighth (19:29.80) as the bears put up 19 points to to win by 43 for their first title.

Eagles Soar To National Heights - Los Altos dropped a division this year, a year after placing sixth in D-I at State. The Eagles brought back five of their seven scorers plus the younger sister of senior star Lauren Soobrian. It was quickly obvious that this would be one of the best teams in California, warranting national recognition. With Lauren and Emily Soobrian leading the way, the Eagles won the CCS title by six points over Palo Alto and the State D-II crown by 13 points over Newbury Park. Los Altos placed second in the State Meet merge and earned a spot at Team Nationals in Portland. An injury to Duke-bound Lauren Soobrian kept her from competing in the PNW but Los Altos still earned a No. 17 national ranking in the final MileSplit50 Girls Team Rankings.

Power of the CCS - Consider that girls cross country teams from the Central Coast Section won two of the five division titles at the State Meet and one team, Los Altos, ended up ranked No. 17 nationally. Los Altos won the CCS D-2 title by six points over Palo Alto and 14 points over St. Francis. At State, St. Francis was the third place team and Palo Alto was fourth. In the State Meet merge of 118 teams, Los Altos ranked second, St. Francis ranked seventh, Palo Alto was eighth and CCS D-1 champion Menlo-Atherton ranked 20th. 

Girls All-Central Coast Section XC Team

Ashlyn Boothby (Scotts Valley/Jr.) - Ran 18:10.5 to win her second consecutive CCS D-IV title while leading her team to its second consecutive section championship. She won eight of 11 races.

Kaiya Brooks (Crystal Springs Uplands/Sr.) - Two-time CCS champion also won the State D-V title, running  17:54.14 on the 5K course at Woodward Park in Fresno, a PR for that distance. She won the CCS title as a freshman in 2019, placed second as a junior, and won again this fall. The Harvard University commit won six of eight races and placed second in another. 

Kinga Czajkowska (Palo Alto/So.) - The sophomore emerged as the No. 1 for powerful Palo Alto, running No. 3 in the CCS meet merge, placing third in the fast D-2 race and fifth the following week at the State Championships. In eight races, she won at Clovis, had two seconds, three thirds, one fourth and one fifth-place finish while running No. 1 for PA seven times.

Kylie Hoornaert (Prospect/So.) - She ran 18:08.1 to win the Division 3 title at the CCS Championships, and placed 14th the following week at the State Meet, the No. 4 sophomore in that race. She won four of nine races with two runner-up finishes and one third-place result.

Evie Marheineke (Archbishop Mitty/So.) - She emerged as one of the top 2025s in CA, while dropping the second-fastest time at the CCS finals, placing second in the D-2 race in 17:36.2. In eight races, she won the final league race and her race at Clovis. She also had three second-place finishes and a fourth. 

Tatum Olesen (Menlo-Athlerton/Jr.) - She ran 18:33.5 to win the Division 1 race while leading her team to its first CCS title. It was one of four race wins for the junior, who placed seventh at the State Meet, running a 5K PR of 17:45.86. She ranked as the No. 5 junior at the State Meet.

Lauren Soobrian (Los Altos/Sr.) - The fastest girl at the CCS Finals, ran 17:29.0 for her second section title, while leading her team to a second consecutive division title. Soobrian won an individual section title as a freshman in 2019. During the fall, before an injury slowed her at State and kept her off the line at Team Nationals, the Duke commit won seven of nine races. 

Girls Team of the Year

Crystal Springs Uplands - When you consider that Coach Albert Caruana said he wasn't sure at one point that there would be enough girls out to put a team on the line, the fact that not only did the Gryphons field a team, but they won both the CCS and State small-school division titles is unfathomable. While Los Altos rightly warranted national ranking recognition, won both section and State titles, and competed at Team Nationals, it is the unexpected heights achieved by the little school from Hillsborough that earned this recognition. While senior Kaiya Brooks was unbeatable up front, the rest of the Gryphons had some catching up to do. Menlo won the first two WBAL meets and Castilleja won the league championship but 14 points over CSU. But the Gryphons, despite a 3:28 1-5 split, won the CCS title and the next week tightened up to 2:48 in a 129-131 victory over 11-time CIF-State champion San Francisco University for the improbable victory. Brooks won the Division V title in 17:54.14. Well back but running together, freshmen Anna Salter (19:20.06) and Kira Dye (19:22.83) were 23rd and 25th, respectively. Junior Maya Wohl crossed 37th among scoring runners (57th overall in 20:16.90), and another freshman, Lauryn Fleshman, closed it out scoring 55th (80th overall in 20:42.78) for the program's first State Meet title -- and one of two on the day.

Photos by Raul Ebio, Daniel Hernandez, and Dan Tyree.

Jeffrey Parenti is a the California State Editor for MileSplit