By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A proven senior and a promising freshman won North Bay League cross country titles Friday at Spring Lake where Maria Carrillo swept the team titles.
After top three finishes in the past two NBL finals, Paul Holden ran like not only the favorite but a young man on a mission to keep winning. Taking first in the third fastest time ever on the course, the Ukiah senior showed why he is ranked among California’s prep bests.
“It feels sweet. It’s awesome,” Holden said. “All my hard work paid off.”
Also leading throughout was Delaney White, winning the girls varsity race in a freshman season for Santa Rosa High that keeps getting better.
“There’s no guarantees. Today was just an on day,” she said after running the third fastest freshman time on the course.
League meets — the Sonoma County League championships are today at Spring Lake — set up the Empire’s top teams and individuals for the North Coast Section finals in two weeks. The CIF state championships follow the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
A strong race typically is on tap in one of the NBL fields. This year it was the boys.
While the favorite was Holden, he had not run the course this season. Still, he knows the hilly lakeside route well.
“I know where all the big rock piles are and how to avoid them,” Holden said.
“I’ve always loved the last mile’s hill. It’s long and it’s steep and you have to be strong.”
That last mile helped Holden push for a 15.01 finish — only two Empire runners have run faster at Spring Lake.
Close behind was Ryan Anderson. The Maria Carrillo junior finished in 15:13, the tenth best mark on the course.
In third was Matt Salazar in 15:42, a freshman record for the Spring Lake course.
Breaking the 15-minute milestone was Holden’s goal, but his strong race shows he is in prime shape for the coming championships.
First is the NCS meet, in Hayward. After finishing second the past two seasons in Division 2, Holden wants a title as a prelude to the state meet, in Fresno.
Holden, who is leaning toward running at Connecticut next year, is ranked ninth in California for his division.
“State, I want to win that. That’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “After this, I’m really confident.”
Running with the assurance of a seasoned prep harrier, White held off Brynna Thigpen, the top runner for champion Maria Carrillo, and Windsor’s Hannah Haley, who set a school record.
“They were definitely an amazing group of runners. There were a lot of nerves,” White said.
While she ran a personal best 18:17, White wanted to break the 18-minute mark.
She gets another chance at the section meet.
“I’m very happy with my time today. The win was nice,” she said.
The title was a first for White, who finished runner-up in the city cross-country meets her two years at Santa Rosa Middle School.
Competing in big meets outside of league, including the Stanford Invitational and at Mt. San Antonio College, helped prepare White for a great season. She wants to keep going all the way to state.
“I really like having good competition,” White said.
Also impressive on the afternoon was Maria Carrillo’s sweep of the four varsity and junior varsity races. Notable among them was the girls’ tenth consecutive league title.
Leading the Pumas was Brynna Thigpen. After running much of the race in the pack trailing the leaders, the senior moved up into third and then second in the final mile.
“I’ve gotten a lot more mentally tough,” Thigpen said. “I realized I wanted to end on a really strong note. I’ll never run this course again.”
A four-year varsity runner, Thigpen still had to work hard to make the top group this season. Nearly a dozen girls ran varsity at different times, but only seven run in each meet.
“We have such a deep team this year,” she said.
Next up are the section finals. The two-week layoff will demand steady training to ensure runners are peaking against top teams.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.