By JIM CROWHURST
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
UKIAH — For its North Bay League cross country opener on Wednesday, the Pumas left 40 runners at home, more athletes than most teams even have. The 48 who did make the trip easily won all four divisions.
The girls race was first over the hilly 3.1-mile course, with temperatures in the high 90s. Carrillo’s Brynna Thigpen, Shannon Palladino and Andrea Natoli went right to the lead and never looked back.
At times, it looked more like three girls out for a fun jog than a league race, yet that is the strength of the Carrillo program.
Ukiah’s Katherine Wong held on just behind them for about half the race before the trio pulled away to finish a good two minutes ahead of Wong, who held on to fourth place. At no time did it look like the trio was pushing hard, until 200 meters to go when Palladino ran in hard for the win with the other two crossing together.
“Today was all about nobody getting dehydrated and getting heat exhaustion,” said Palladino. The Pumas won easily 18-43 with 10 of the first 12 finishers being from Carrillo.
In the boys race, Carrillo again won easily, 22-39 with the difference here being that Ukiah has one of the top boys runners in the state in Paul Holden. Holden allowed Carrillo runners to lead a bit during the first two miles before pulling away to a 20 second win over Ryan Anderson and Harrison Luft.
“This year I’d really like to go for the record on this course and I believe I have a good shot at winning state.” said Holden.
While some coaches have to beat the hallways of their schools just to come up with kids willing to run, Carrillo coach Greg Fogg said he doesn’t have to recruit.
“It’s all word-of-mouth at this point,” said Fogg, who gives a lot of the credit to Carrillo’s first coach, Dan Aldridge.
“One of the things we do in practice is try and make it really fun, and try and hide the fact that it is hard,” added Fogg. “The program just continues to get larger every year. We have five adults working with this team and if there is any downside of having so many kids out, it is that you lose some of the personal contact you want to have with each of them.”
Talking with the runners on the team, it’s not apparent that they are feeling slighted. Luft, one of the star runners in the area and in his fourth year on the team, said, “We have so much camaraderie on this team, and everyone from the seniors to the freshman feel very close together.”
“The coaches have made an atmosphere where everyone on the team has a great respect for each other because they know how hard the others on the team are working,” Anderson said.
Thigpen added that the coaches do so much to let everyone on the team know they are important by setting up charts with data on every team member’s heart rate and pacing marks. With the Carrillo team being so large, the Pumas often break into workout groups of seven or eight groups. Two to three times a year the varsity group will have a separate night tempo workout.
“The goal is for these kids to continue to like running even after high school,” said Fogg. “We do things like pasta feeds during the year and this Monday, because of the heat, our workout was in the pool.”
For more on Wednesday’s cross country meet and North Bay running in general, check out Jim Crowhurst’s blog at running.blogs.pressdemocrat .com.