All-Empire girls cross country runner of the year: Rylee Bowen

All-Empire Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Rylee Bowen. Credit: Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat

All-Empire Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Rylee Bowen. Credit: Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat


Sonoma Academy running sensation Rylee Bowen dashed away with the CIF Division 5 cross country state title, but she was just having fun.

Only a freshman, the All-Empire Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year was ranked No. 1 heading into the race for the state title, and she reinvigorated the sport at Sonoma Academy.

“Kids like Rylee only come around once in a long while,” head coach Danny Aldridge said. “She brings all the right energy into cross country.”

Pushing for a state title in her freshman season, Bowen found herself in the limelight — a position that could put unwanted pressure on a young athlete — but she was only worried about continuing to have fun for the duration of the long season.

“Running is a tough sport and you can only do it if you like it,” said Bowen’s mom, Nika, who was an accomplished distance runner at Santa Rosa High and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the early 1990s. “I’m so glad she’s enjoying it and looking forward to getting back on the track.”

Bowen loved the different tracks she got to run on — her favorite being Mt. San Antonio College — and said that her successes came second to the experiences.

“This season was a lot of fun for me,” Bowen said. “There were so many good experiences with the team.”

The length of the season was a struggle for her, she said, and as a freshman, she hadn’t adjusted to a high school cross country campaign.

“It was new to her to be on a high school team and to be adjusting to that,” Nika said. “She put together some good races early in her season and fumbled a little later.”

Bowen battled physically and mentally to keep up with the pace of the schedule, she said, and welcomed the midseason break.

“There were a lot more races than I was used to and I kind of died,” she said. “Having so much on my plate was hard. After the break, though, it was all fun and games again.”

The amount of energy and dedication that Bowen has put into the sport makes her coaches keep a close eye on her. They don’t want her to overdo it, Aldridge said.

“Such talent and such great work ethic and as a coach, you have to make sure they don’t overtrain,” he added.

She has a lot to be proud of after winning the state title and leading the team to a top-three finish in Fresno, he said.

“She can go a very long way in the sport if she chooses to do that,” he said, hinting at Bowen’s many other interests, including swimming for the Santa Rosa Neptunes, hiking in the local mountains and the potential to become a triathlete.

Moving forward in her cross country career, Bowen is looking forward to future memories, she said, while improving her mile time, too, of course.

“She won the state meet but she kind of beat herself up over the fact that she didn’t get the time that she wanted,” her mother said.

That goal is just one of many that Bowen will chase heading into the spring track season, and moving forward in her running career.

“We just want her to improve every year,” Aldridge said. “We are just going to let the titles and accolades come to us while we just get Rylee to become better and better.”

Keeping her focused on the sport and preventing her from getting overwhelmed with media attention will be the key to her continued success, Aldridge said.

“She’ll run into some hurdles, but she’s going to be just fine,” Nika said of what she expects the future will hold for her daughter.

With so much success already at such a young age, Bowen will face expectations that she can’t focus on, Nika added.

“I think she’s going to falter,” her mother said. “In four years, there’s going to be some hiccups and she’s going to learn how to scrape herself off the cross country course or track and figure it out. It’s all a part of the natural process.”

Press Democrat blogger Jim Crowhurst contributed to this report. Read his On Track blog at