Cross country runners kicking into high gear

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Months of mileage have primed the Empire’s high school cross country teams for league meets now that will lead to the season’s top races in November.

The Piner boys could be one of the Empire’s best teams ever and will challenge for a California state title. The Maria Carrillo girls appear ready for a return to the state meet.

Several other squads are among the North Coast Section’s best including the boys teams from Maria Carrillo, Santa Rosa, Cardinal Newman and Sonoma Academy as well as the girls from Piner, Santa Rosa, Casa Grande and Petaluma.

A strong contingent of individual runners is led by Piner’s Luis Luna, who is ranked among the top 20 U.S. boys; and Nicole Lane, from El Molino, who is among the state’s best.

Other Empire large-school boys among the section’s best are Alex Conner, Sonoma Valley;Jaime Silva and Efren Reyes, both from Piner; Kevin Poteracke and Ryan Douglas, both of Petaluma; Paul Holden, Ukiah; Alexi Taylor, Cardinal Newman; Michael Tomasi, Santa Rosa; and Harrison Luft, Maria Carrillo.

On the large-school girls’ side it’s Lauren Kraus, Maria Carrillo; Ashley Moffett, Casa Grande; Kyra Johnson, Piner; Amber Piersol and Victoria Tomaszewski, both from Windsor; and Andrea Natoli and Brynna Thigpen, both from Maria Carrillo.

“We’ve got some really good stuff going on this year. It depends on how they progress and who stays healthy,” said Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg.

Running personal bests nearly every week, Luna is tuning up for a fourth consecutive state cross country meet and a bid for the national championships.

“He’s in elite company,” said Piner coach Luis Rosales.

After a summer that included an invite to the Nike elite camp and training with the ever stronger Piner team, Luna has moved up the state and national rankings as he’s recorded some of the Empire’s all-time cross country marks.

What excites the Piner team even more is the boys chances for section and state titles. Piner is ranked third in California for Division 3 boys.

At the prestigious Stanford Invitational, Piner finished second in its division with the first five Prospectors posting times among the Top 10 for Empire boys at the meet.

“That was a really good measure because it was a statewide meet,” Rosales said. “We’re running fast. I just hope they keep it up.”

Helping push Piner to improve is a very strong North Bay League. The Maria Carrillo boys are ranked second in the section for Division 2, Cardinal Newman is third in Division 4 and Santa Rosa is fourth in Division 1.

Conner has emerged as the top boys runner in the Sonoma County League with Douglas and Poteracke close behind with some of the Empire’s best times ever.

The boys’ team title will be a battle. Meets so far have been very close.

“Teams are having to push themselves every time. You can’t have a letdown,” said Casa Grande coach Carl Triola. “It prepares them for the big meets at the end of the season.”

Qualifying an SCL boys’ team for the state meet will be a challenge with Petaluma having perhaps the best chance.

Getting to state is the goal for Maria Carrillo’s girls, ranked first in the section for Division 2. A strong trio leads the Pumas with Kraus putting up some all-time Empire marks.

“She loves to be a front runner and is bold,” Fogg said.

Piner could challenge for the NBL girls title with track star Kyra Johnson getting faster on the trails. The Prospectors are ranked fifth in the section for Division 3.

Moving up the Empire record charts is Lane following a busy summer of training. Putting in more mileage, the El Molino standout also trained with the Piner and Maria Carrillo teams including summer camps.

“She is the real deal. She’s looking real good,” Triola said.

The SCL girls team competition figures to be tight between Casa Grande and Petaluma — both are on the bubble of section rankings — with Windsor also in the hunt.

“It’s fun to watch. It’s pretty exciting,” Triola said.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.