NBL cross country: Elsie Allen raises profile with meet at school

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Elsie Allen cross country coach Mitch Thiele isn’t afraid to admit that his program needs to boost its profile. It isn’t that people have a negative perception of the Lobos distance runners. It’s that they have no perception at all.

“A lot of kids at this school didn’t even know we had a team,” Thiele said.

So he decided to make a formal introduction. Thiele moved Elsie Allen’s home meet from its traditional Spring Lake course to home territory. Wednesday, the Lobos hosted Maria Carrillo and Ukiah in the first North Bay League cross country meet at Elsie Allen in at least 10 years.

Ukiah junior Paul Holden, one of the top runners in the Redwood Empire, won the boys race, but Maria Carrillo dominated the competition. Running with a split squad, the Pumas still claimed the boys’ race with 23 points, to Ukiah’s 39 and Elsie’s 83. In the girls’ race, the top 10 finishers were all Pumas, with freshman Kayla Hordyk out front.

But Elsie Allen might have been the real winner. The school band occupied the football stadium to add some pomp, and with the football and soccer teams taking turns practicing on the field, it was a lively environment.

“I thought it was so good,” Thiele said. “I asked a lot of the kids, ‘Did that make you run faster, the drumming and music and stuff?’ They said, ‘Oh, God, that was so cool.’ I think it surprised a few people.”

Thiele marked up a map of the school, finally settling on a flat, winding course that starts on the stadium track, loops around the outer field and the inner baseball diamond, through the parking lot, off to the northern extremities of the campus, and then much of the same in reverse before finishing with a final lap on the track. There were a few minor hitches, but no one got terribly lost.
Before the race, Thiele was calling it 3.3 miles. Afterward, the consensus pegged it as closer to 3 miles.

Thiele had another reason to be proud Wednesday. His daughter Heidi finished second, running for Maria Carrillo. The Thieles live in Rincon Valley, and with Greg Fogg running a strong program at Carrillo, Mitch Thiele didn’t see any reason to drag Heidi across town. The downside is that he rarely gets to see her run.

At the Elsie meet, she stayed just in front of or behind Hordyk for most of the race before falling back. Hordyk finished in 20:45, Thiele in 20:55.

“I kind of forget about it,” Heidi, a senior, said of racing against her dad’s squad, “but it helps when he cheers me on, too. So it’s kind of cool. I make friends with his teammates. It’s friendly competition.”

Junior Haleigh Frye (21:20), junior Ashley Gunderson (21:31) and sophomore Paige VanDenburg (21:36) rounded out the top five for the Pumas. Several of their fastest girls — including Lauren Kraus, Andrea Natoli and Brynna Thigpen — were back on the Maria Carrillo campus, doing speed work with an eye to the big Mount SAC meet on Saturday.

The Carrillo girls have a potent lineup and are looking like the team to beat in the NBL this year, though coach Fogg would like to see his No. 4 and No. 5 runners close the gap a little behind his Big Three.

In Wednesday’s boys race, Maria Carrillo junior Colin Metcalfe hung with Holden for a surprisingly long time. It may have been an accident.

“I was thinking about the course wrong,” Metcalfe admitted. “I came through that area (on the ballfields), before we went back through the school in the other direction, and I didn’t think we had to do that extra loop. So I was thinking I was gonna catch him. But I obviously didn’t. Oh, well.”

Holden finally shook Metcalfe on the back loop and finished in 16:06. Metcalfe was at 16:20, Maria Carrillo senior Steve Purugganan at 16:34, Ukiah junior Noah Taxis at 16:40, and Carrillo senior Emilio Horner at 16:44.

Holden finished second to Piner’s Luis Luna at the NBL meet last year, and was also No. 2 in the North Coast Section Division 2 race. He’s in the hunt again this year, and hoping to eliminate the stomach cramps that have sometimes affected him during races. They got so bad at the Yuba-Sutter meet last year that he fell from first place to 12th after the halfway point.

Holden has consulted some experts and done a lot of Internet research. He does abdominal stretches and is working on coordinating his strides with his breathing, and he is hopeful it’s all paying off. He felt fine Wednesday. In fact, it looked like he hardly worked up a sweat.

Next year could be a bumper campaign for Ukiah. The Wildcats don’t have a single senior on this year’s roster.

“Next year, if we’re all healthy and good, then I’m pretty sure we could win NBLs,” Holden said. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”

This year, Holden may have to chase a title by himself.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.