NCS cross-country championships: Casa Grande boys take title

Casa Grande's Matt Salazar runs in a tight pack during the first mile of the North Coast Section Cross-Country Championships Division 2 race at Hayward High School on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s Matt Salazar runs in a tight pack during the first mile of the North Coast Section Cross-Country Championships Division 2 race at Hayward High School on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

HAYWARD — In their 2013 cross-country dual meet, the Maria Carrillo boys beat Casa Grande on a sixth-place tiebreaker (usually only the top five finishers for each team are counted). In their tri-meet this year, the Gauchos won by a single point. At the North Bay League championships a couple weeks ago, the Pumas won on another tiebreaker.

The tightest rivalry in local distance running took a new turn Saturday at Hayward High School when the Casa boys upended their rivals to win the North Coast Section Division 2 championship.

It’s the first cross-country section title in Casa Grande history, and it ended Carrillo’s two-year reign at NCS.
“Beating Carrillo, I wouldn’t say it was more sweet but it’s pretty close,” Gauchos senior Nicholas Rauch said.

The CIF state meet is next Saturday in Fresno and, yes, the Pumas boys, who finished third in D2, will be there to get another crack at Casa. The Carrillo girls qualified, too — they finished second, ending their run of three straight titles — as did the Sonoma Academy girls team, another program to claim its first NCS championship. The Coyotes’ Rylee Bowen was the Division 5 individual winner.

Six boys and four girls qualified for the state meet as individuals: El Molino’s Brian Schulz and Brady Lane, Santa Rosa’s Delaney White and Daniel Pride, Analy’s Dante Capone, Casa Grande’s Adria Barich, Petaluma’s Madison Parratt, Cardinal Newman’s Steve Adams, Healdsburg’s Ana Drake-Trip and Sonoma Academy’s Caleb Richards.

This year, the weather was nearly as daunting as the competition.

It rained horizontally through the first few races of the day, which began at 8:30 with the D2 boys, forcing the runners to blink constantly to keep the moisture out of their eyes, and weighing down their clothes with water. The car-lot flags marking the course whipped and crackled. Umbrellas didn’t stand a chance.

The rain let up at about 10 a.m. — the sun even came out for later races —but the muddy course only got worse as more than a thousand teens trampled it.

A few spots on the route were particularly treacherous. Hayward High’s dirt track got pretty soupy. A hairpin right turn to exit the track became a Slip ’N Slide, and the descent off the one real hill along the course (the backdrop to the start line) demanded extreme caution.

“The track was tough because you’re trying to get on the inside and there were these huge puddles,” said White, who ran the fastest time among Redwood Empire girls at 18:30.4, somehow eclipsing her time from last year in much inferior conditions. “And I’m right next to one of the Redwood girls and they’re splashing and it’s like hitting me. I’m like, this was so much nicer the first time around.”

Some kids fell. Even those who didn’t wound up looking like survivors of a mud run.

And yet most of the runners seemed uplifted the rain. Some claimed they fed off of the extra challenge. Others said it was simply fun to get dirty.

“In a way, I think the rain and the weather kind of takes away the stress of competition a little bit,” said senior Shannon Palladino, Maria Carrillo’s No. 2 finisher behind Shaz Breedlove. “Like today, I thought back to our Tahoe meet. There was this one tempo we did around a dirt track, and it was thunder and lightning the whole time. I was just thinking of that and it was really exciting.”

“It’s always fun (in wet weather),” White said. “I mean, you’re running in the rain, in a torrential downpour, and you’re racing. You feel like you’re in a Nike commercial, for God’s sakes.”

After finishing fourth in the Division 2 race, White fashioned a rain poncho from a long piece of aluminum foil. She looked like an alien.

Carl Triola, the Casa coach, certainly wasn’t put off by the rain.

“Looking back at our past teams and how we’ve done, we’ve always told our kids, ‘These are our conditions.’ I’ve never really worried about one of our kids in these conditions,” Triola said. “When we get to the line we just say, OK, guys, this is race time.”

The Casa Grande girls finished third, which wasn’t quite good enough to secure a berth in the state meet.

The Casa boys, meanwhile, got a great race from Matt Salazar. The junior had not run particularly well in the NBL championships two weeks earlier, but he finished second to his good friend Andy Ehrenberg of Redwood in the D2 race and crossed in 15:35, the fastest time among Redwood Empire boys and fourth overall.

Salazar credited working with Rauch, who was fifth in the D2 race at 15:56.

“It’s awesome,” Salazar said. “In his mile last year he got 4:16. He’s just that speed guy. Once we do our speed work, he’s the guy I go with. And we push each other really hard. Workouts get really competitive, and it’s really nice to have that source. Because I’m more of the endurance guy.”

Both of them will be on the path at Woodward Park in Fresno next weekend, and so will the boys from Maria Carrillo.

Does this rivalry have one more twist in store?

“I’m gonna go talk to Casa Grande and remind ’em that it’s our turn next week,” Pumas coach Greg Fogg said.

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

  • Phil Bennent

    I find this article not to be very true. I talked to most of the athletes here after their race and what they said is very different from what this article says. Not the best article. Especially considering most other press democrat articles are relatively accurate.