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Thursday, August 02, 2012

NCS Division I Pre-Season Rankings by Jason Oswalt

Thank you very much to Jason for once again breaking down the NCS Division I cross country battle.  You won't find pre-season rankings better than what he put together here below.  Enjoy!

NCS Division 1 Preview 2012
The dog days of summer are upon us and for cross country runners that means that the miles are piling up, athletes are getting fit, and teams are gearing up for another run at a coveted spot on the starting line at the state meet. Summertime training has a unique feel to it, different from any other time of year. It is a time when athletes can dream as my college coach, Robert Johnson, once put it. What he meant was that during these months of training, where intensity is not as high as it will be during the season, athletes find themselves out on runs imagining what might be. For me, those visions were always grandiose as I saw myself leading my team to state, or breaking someone’s record, or qualifying and even winning nationals. Once the season rolled around, obviously those things didn’t all happen, but on those lonely runs in the summertime, it was those dreams that kept me motivated, and in the moment, without the realities of last week’s race or tomorrow’s hard workout to dampen the fantasy, all of those dreams seemed realistic. Hopefully this season preview will serve to enhance those dreams for each of you as you round out your last few weeks of summer training. Some of you will see your names and your team and want to show that you belong, or maybe you don’t see your name and want to show the world that I’m a jerk who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I apologize in advance for any inaccuracy of PRs, or omission of times, but I can only use the results that I could find. Please feel free to disagree in the comments section. This is really all about entertainment and discussion, because no one is winning any awards based on my opinions. The back and forth that follows the release of rankings is part of what makes the whole thing fun.

Changes in the Landscape
There were not many changes in Division 1 this year, but some of the changes are noteworthy and could affect the order of things in November. Livermore High School has dropped from Division 1 to Division 2, just as their girls are starting to reload with some new, young talent. They would have needed some help, or at least major improvements from their fourth and fifth runners to be a factor in the running for a state meet berth, but they were poised to re-enter the top five. Taking their place in the division is the always formidable San Ramon Valley. SRV will contend for state meet berths in both the boys’ and the girls’ competition this year and with their tradition of sending teams to the state meet, it won’t surprise anyone if they find themselves in the top two on November 17th.

NCS Outlook
The tables have turned in Division 1 in 2012. Last year it was the girls teams that had the talent to compete with the best in the state. The Granada girls’ 8th place team finish was the highest by an NCS team in Division 1 since before I started coaching in 2007 and at least before 2004. Amador Valley’s 14 th place finish, although not special, is generally near where the top NCS team finishes in division 1, which may show that the section on the whole made some strides at the state level. As last season progressed, it became clear that there would be little drama concerning which two teams would qualify for the state meet as Granada and Amador Valley had separated from the pack. The NCS meet quickly became a dual meet between the two with Granada coming out ahead by just five points. Although the Lady Matadors and Lady Dons will both be in the conversation in November, graduation has brought them back to the pack. There are several schools capable of overtaking either or both of these squads on the right day and unlike last year, I would be surprised if the state meet spots were settled before that last hill in Hayward.

Conversely, last year was a weak year at the state level for the Division 1 boys, but a very exciting year at the section level. We went into last year with no less than five teams that looked like they had a chance to finish in the top two. As the season progressed, Amador Valley and De La Salle emerged as the favorites, but the NCS meet was going to be meaningful for more teams than that. After going back and forth all season, including an Amador Valley head to head victory at the EBAL Championships, it was De La Salle winning when it counted and repeating as NCS champions. When it came to the state meet though, both young teams faltered with the Spartans finishing 17th and the Dons finishing 20th, in efforts that did not match what those teams were capable of. On the bright side for them, and unfortunately for everyone else, neither team were hit hard by graduation last year (only one athlete graduated from each varsity team), so both will be looking to earn another shot and do more with the opportunity. Not so fast though. San Ramon Valley beat both De La Salle and Amador Valley at the EBAL Championships last year with SRV finishing first, AVHS second, and De La Salle third. Where all three teams should have their sights set on joining the ’07 Monte Vista team and the ’09 San Ramon Valley team as the only Division 1 boys teams to finish in the top 10 in the last 6 years, they can’t look past the race at Hayward because at least one of these teams is certain to stay home. Although the three EBAL teams will look to separate from each other as well as the rest of the pack, there are a few other rejuvenated squads looking to enter the fray and sneak their way onto the starting line in Fresno the weekend after Thanksgiving.

We Are the(2 time defending) Champions, My Friends:
Although both De La Salle and Granada were both repeat NCS Champions in 2011, the stories of their seasons were very different. Granada, a team of experienced and accomplished veterans, set the tone early with victories at the Ed Sias Invitational, Nike Invitational, and a dominant performance at the Clovis Invitational, which left them second in the state rankings for most of the remainder of the season. Led by Carina Novell and Maryann Gong and the emergence of Kelsey Girardelli and Sarah Franklin, and Alyssa Horning the lady Matadors spent most of the season as prohibitive favorites. They were tested in the post season, but weathered the storm to win tight races in both the EBAL Championships and NCS Championships and carried the momentum to an 8th place finish at state. If Granada wants to complete the 3-Peat and build an NCS dynasty, they will need some new blood to help lead the charge up front. With the graduation of Novell, the already accomplished Maryann Gong (4th place at NCS, 28th at state and 10:52.65 3200 on the track) has the added pressure of being the undisputed #1 runner for Granada. In a year where they don’t figure to have quite as much power up front, someone will need to soften the burden on Gong. That role will likely fall to veteran cross country scorer and mid-distance studette, Sarah Franklin, who finished 19th at NCS last year, but is the 11th returner and made significant strides during the track season, recording times of 2:21.85 for 800m and 5:18.94 over 1600m. As we know, cross country meets are not decided by the #1 and #2 runner, but by the 5 th runner. Granada will rely on Victoria Winter to build on her promising freshman year, where she finished 30 th in the EBAL and 37th at NCS and the improvement of junior Emily Byrnes, who ended her cross country season with a 16 th place finish in the EBAL Frosh/Soph race, but came to life during track by running 2:27.98 and 5:32.80. Carina Novell may have graduated, but the name will continue to give NCS coaches nightmares as her sister, Sarah Novell, finished 59th at NCS last year and figures to be a factor in the team’s scoring this year. Lastly, although it would be unfair to expect her to be back up front, we may see Sophie Hartley come back to be a contributor on this team. Sophie missed her freshman track season and sophomore cross country season after suffering a broken leg, but competed during the track season, recording times of 5:36.73 and 12:43.24. NCS is six months after the end of the track season, which for this dedicated runner, is six more months of training. Who knows what can happen. Either way, it will be good to see her out on the cross country course again.

Keys to Success: Granada had a two year run with one set of talented runners. Many of those runners have now graduated, so if the run is going to continue, it will be a new set of girls taking the reins. They have plenty of talent waiting in the wings; the question is going to be whether or Franklin, Byrnes, Novell, and Winter are ready to step into the shoes of their predecessors. Granada has the best returning credentials in their #1-5, but the athletes are not accustomed to the roles that they will have to play. They can’t all be Carina Novell, but they don’t have to be. If each girl gets a little bit better, they could rival the total score of last year’s squad.

Unlike Granada, De La Salle’s second consecutive championship last year might just be the start of a much longer streak. The Spartans took down a weak field in 2011 with a young squad last year, and despite the transfer of Walter Brennan, they still have five returners from last year’s varsity team. Of those five, four finished in the top twenty and two finished in the top ten. With the addition of rising junior Blair Hurlock, the Spartans ensure that this year’s winner in Division 1 will be anything, but weak. Although they were unprepared to run well at the state level last year, this Spartans squad is absolutely loaded with young talent. On paper, their top returner is junior Luke Williams, who finished 4th at NCS last year and 99th at the state meet. Williams came back in the spring to run impressive sophomore times of 4:30.62 for 1600m and 9:52.62 for 3200m. He is joined by sophomore standout Matt Schumann, who would be mentioned for his outstanding freshman cross country season (18th at NCS), if it wasn’t for his emergence as a future force during the track season, where he covered 3200 meters in 9:29.63 at the Sacramento Meet of Champions, to finish second in a strong field. Schumann then carried his season all the way to the NCS Meet of Champions, where he finished fourteenth. Watching the rich get richer, De La Salle will also field can’t miss star junior Blair Hurlock. Hurlock attended De La Salle last year, but was ruled ineligible for the entire year due to transfer procedures, even as one of his teammates, who transferred from the same school, was ruled eligible immediately. I’m happy to not be the person to rule on these cases and I don’t claim to know have the answers, but the way things went happened illustrated that there is unfairness in the system. Hurlock did not waste the year though. He spent his required time away from high school competition gaining experience on the senior club scene. Running on Pacific Association cross country circuit, which features races from 5k to 12k and excelling throughout, Hurlock raced higher level competition than he would have seen in high school races, including mostly post-collegiate athletes, some of whom are seeking professional sponsorship. Hurlock finished in 12th place at the Pacific Association Championships against some of these post-collegiate athletes many in their mid-twenties to early thirties. That result may be more impressive than his 22nd place finish at Footlocker West a few weeks later. His track times of 4:28.76 for the mile (he ran a faster equivalent in a college/open 1500m race at Sac State, but I can’t find that result. I think it was equivalent to about a 4:24 mile, but that could be off) and 9:35.77 for 3200 are more modest compared to his cross country season, but keep in mind that he was only a sophomore and his racing opportunities were very limited. The other returning top twenty NCS guys are senior, John Jankowski (10th) and junior, Clark Messman (11th). Although nothing stellar came out of the spring for them (Messman may not have even run as I could not find results for him), when a team’s #4 and #5 returner were 10 th and 11th the previous year, that is a team to be reckoned with. The Spartans’ other returner is Justin Mogannam, who finished 51st at NCS last year and recorded track times of 4:49.07 and 10:30.01. There is no shortage of depth either as De La Salle has a number of runners who will be looking to round out the varsity squad this year.

Trey Schwarz (junior)-EBAL FS Champ, 4:54.90 1600m, 10:31.06 3200m
Sean Wanket (sophomore)-3rd EBAL FS, 4:43.25 1600m, 10:27.67 3200m
Nick Mitchell (sophomore)-5th EBAL FS, 10:26.41 3200m
Drew Johnson (sophomore)-8th EBAL FS, 4:43.71 1600m
Amiel Capinpin (senior)-3rd EBAL JV, 2:00.40 800m, 4:43.96 1600m, 10:47.96 3200m

Keys to Success: Make sure the team bus break down on the way to NCS.

Who Wants a Piece of the Champ?

Girls (Alphabetical)
Amador Valley-The Lady Dons have been climbing the ladder the past few years. They went from finishing 5th in 2009, to an agonizing 3rd in 2010, to a rewarding 2nd last year. If the climb is to continue to the top, NCS mainstay Jena Pianin is going have to get some help from some new friends.  Like Granada, this Amador Valley team was stung by graduation, probably even more so than even the Lady Matadors. With four of its top five moving on to college, there is a large hole that needs filled by a talented, yet inexperienced group. Pianin, who enjoyed the finest post-season run by an NCS Division 1 athlete in recent memory, winning the EBAL against San Ramon Valley’s star freshman Christine Bayliss, then taking the NCS crown from Berkeley’s star freshman Diribe Abdo, and finally capping the year with a 5th place finish at the state meet, is one of very few NCS athletes in Division 1 who have been able to think seriously about a state championship in quite some time. Repeating as NCS champion, would give the Dons a great start with one point on the team score, the Dons learned last year that it isn’t enough by itself. To continue the team success, Nina Razavi is going to have to be a more assertive force in the line-up. She appeared in the Dons’ top five four times last season, but will need to finish much higher than that this year. Following Razavi are junior Stephanie Duret (33rd EBAL, 48th NCS, 170th state last year in her first cross country season), senior Maddy Hansen (45th EBAL), and junior Juliet Logan (EBAL Frosh/Soph champ) who all have some varsity experience. Quite honestly, this is not enough fire power to launch Amador Valley back to the state meet. This year’s squad will be relying on reinforcements.  Headlining the new names is incoming freshman Annaka Green who has already run impressive times of 2:17 in the 800m and 4:39 in the 1500m. 4:39 is equivalent to a sub 5:00 1600. She will provide Amador Valley with another force up front from the very beginning. Also joining the squad this year will be juniors Emma Sage and Kim Sannajust. The pair only began running competitively during the spring track season and both had impressive early results. Sage and Sannajust amassed prs of 5:41.88 and 12:38.27 in the 1600 and 3200 and 5:44.33 and 12:26.48 for the same distances. Others looking to make an impact will be juniors Marina Fox (13:13.66 3200m) and Cassie Sigua (6:13.84 1600 in an injury plagued season).

Keys to Success: This Amador Valley team has a ton of upside, but too many of these athletes have never run a high school cross country race to know exactly where they stand. It stands to reason that Green will be good, but the season is going to come down to how well Razavi can bounce back from a mediocre track season and whether or not Sannajust and Sage find themselves in the Dons’ top five.

Berkeley-If you were watching Division 1 cross country last year, you are certainly familiar with the exploits of rising sophomore Diribe Abdo. Abdo is an Ethiopian immigrant who made her presence felt in the area the first time she raced. Her fearless front-running quickly broke the pack at the NCS championships and turned the race into a one on one battle with eventual champion Jena Pianin. Abdo and Pianin went back and forth until the final hill, at which time Pianin was able to pull away. Abdo employed the same style seven days later to finish 9th at the state meet. It was the first time that NCS has placed two athletes in the top 10 at the Division 1 level since at least 2004 and possibly much farther back than that. Abdo’s style did not change on the track, nor did her success as qualified for the state meet recording a 10:57.10 at the NCS Meet of Champions. If you were watching Division 1 cross country last year, you probably also know that Diribe Abdo has a twin sister, Biritu Abdo. Biritu got lost in her sister’s shadow a little bit last, but she had a terrific freshman season herself. Finishing twelfth in the NCS race, Biritu was the second fastest freshman on the day behind her sister, running 19:06. Removing last year’s seniors from the race, the Abdo sisters give the Yellow Jackets the lowest score through two runners. Even if you were watching NCS Division 1 cross country last year, you might have missed the performance of junior Eva Townsend. Townsend finished 30th at NCS in 19:59. Again, when you pull out the seniors from last year’s race, Berkeley still has the best score through three runners (Diribe with 2, Biritu with 8, and Townsend with 19 makes 29 points through three). Unfortunately for Berkeley, that’s about it. Berkeley’s three other NCS returners were sophomore Georgia Kidson in 69th, senior Nina Glaser in 82nd and senior Sophia Olaya-Hermes in 105th. I could not find track results for any of those runners, so it is not clear if they even had spring seasons to build on. Senior Isis Piccollo did not run cross country last year, but recorded a 2:39.24 800m during the track season, which is an indication that she would be able to join the Yellow Jacket scoring five if she competed in the sport this fall.

Keys to Success: Berkeley was one of 8 NCS Division 1 teams to return at least five runners from last year’s NCS squad and of those teams, they have the second best cumulative team score based on last year’s results. The bad news for them is that some of the teams with less than five returners appear to be better. Berkeley scores 29 points through their first three returning runners. Eva Townsend is the 19th returner. It took 60 points to win the race last year and 65 to qualify for state. Although the scores might be a little higher this year as no teams look to be as dominant as last year’s qualifiers, Eva Townsend will need to live up to that top 20 potential and Berkeley needs to find at least two runners who can run with her. It isn’t out of the question for Kidson to be one of those people as she finished 69 th last year as a freshman, but that’s a big jump and they would still need someone else to cap the scoring.

California-By returning cross country times it is crazy to list this team as a contender. Although the Grizzlies return six of seven runners from last year’s team, they finished in twelfth place and their top returner, junior Charlene Chew, finished in 45th. When you pull the seniors out of last year’s race, Cal still amasses 242 points with their top five returners. Last year it took 65 points to get to the state meet. So why then is Cal a part of this preview? Last year was Dave Hill’s first year as the head of the cross country program. There is only so much you can do in your first season and the athletes improved tremendously when it came time to run track. The Grizzlies return seven girls from their track team with 1600m PRs of 5:55.20 or better, all of whom have run 2:40.30 or better. Most of them did not run 3200m, so their ability over cross country distances is still questionable, but there is enough middle distance talent there to translate into a competitive cross country team. The fastest track runner, junior, Madison Ricks may be a non-factor as she has never run cross country before, but if Hill can convince his 4:59.25 and 2:09.52 thoroughbred to give it a shot, she is immediately a top five contender at the section level, if not better. Even without Ricks though, Cal has an intriguing team. Most notably, junior Kathy Camenzind stepped up in the springtime to make herself a factor in the EBAL. She ran times of 5:34.48 for 1600m and 12:27.99 for 3200m. She is joined by sophomore Rana Koussa, who finished just 7th in the EBAL frosh-soph race, but then ran 5:39.03 in the spring for 1600m. Also returning to the team are senior Chew and sophomore Alexandra Tran. Both athletes ran 21:06 at EBAL’s last year, but Chew did it finishing 41st in the varsity race, where Tran ran the time for 4th in the frosh-soph race.  Chew followed cross country with an impressive track season where she ran 2:23.79 for 800m, possibly signaling a big jump in cross country. Heather Donner is a former state meet competitor in the 800m also and last spring she showed she still has her wheels, clocking in at 2:22.12. Besides Ricks, Cal has a couple of sophomores who ran track, but not cross country in Alisa Lego and Kara Guse who ran the 1600m in 5:46.51 and 5:55.20. They would be valuable additions to the team.

Keys to Success: Mid-Distance talent does not always translate to cross country success, but it certainly can. The Cal runners have to develop a mindset for distance running as 5k races are different than 800m and 1600m. The biggest thing Cal can do to put itself in contention is to convince Madison Ricks to run cross country. If they don’t, the state meet is probably out of the question as it’s a long shot anyway.  They are all but guaranteed to have their best cross country finish since at least 2008, when they finished 5th.

Freedom-Freedom is a long shot because of their lack of depth, but with the front three they bring back, they have a chance. Senior Lisa Tilcock, junior Olivia Herrera, and senior Fionna Lehman finished 23rd, 24th, and 29th at NCS last year, making Lehman the best returning third runner in all of Division 1. Although Tilcock only finished 23rd last year, she finished 12th in 2010, which may not suggest she can run at the very front of the race, but does suggest that at her best, she is a formidable #1 runner. Even with Tilcock’s off day last year, Freedom sits behind just Berkeley, Granada, and James Logan for the lowest score through three returning runners. Freedom runs into real problems after three runners where the next returning runner they have is junior Monique Paris, who finished 118 th last year in 24:36. As a freshman she was a little bit better, running 81st in 22:24, but she needs to run two minutes faster than that if she wants to help the team contend. It doesn’t look like there is much help coming from the track athletes either as the only other distance runner who competed for Freedom was Kierra Kawalkowski, who posted times of 2:52.87 and 6:18.91.

Keys to Success: This team is very strong through three runners, but do not have a set of girls in place to develop into a strong fourth and fifth. Besides running their best race on the right day, which is what every team needs to do, the Freedom girls are going to have to do something to get two more impact runners onto the roster.

James Logan-First of all, hats off to the Colts of 2011. In my rankings last year, I summarized Logan girls’ cross country for as long as I can remember by calling them a talented group of athletes who can never get it done as a team when it counts. I meant that as an honest reflection of their history, but I also hoped that someone on that team reads this site and would take it as a challenge. I don’t know if that happened or not, but the ladies at Logan certainly performed well last year when it mattered.  Challenging for a state spot for over two miles, they eventually finished third and sent two ladies to state as individuals. One of those ladies is back in the person of senior Sarah Perrin, who was Logan’s top finisher in 6th place running 18:24. Perrin also had an outstanding track season, clocking in at 5:07.65 for 1600m at the NCS MOC Trials and finishing 7th in the final. The Colts’ second returner is junior Amihan Augustin, who finished 11th at NCS.  Although Augustin missed out on the state meet last year, she qualified individually as a freshman giving her valuable experience to help lead that team as an upper- classman. It was noted earlier that of all teams with five returning runners, Berkeley had the second best score. Well this is the team that beat them. Even though they lose front running Tiffany Monsalud to graduation, James Logan returns the best complete team in the division (minimum of five returners).  Rounding out their scoring five are three seniors. Stephanie Arzon finished 42nd last year in 20:16, Jessica Ramirez finished 62nd last year in 20:53, and Vanessa Amaral finished 63rd in 20:57. Along with the NCS returners, Logan will look to junior Jennifer Eubank, sophomore Breanna Finnegan, and junior Wendy Ho to make contributions. These three finished 5th, 6th, and 7th at last year’s MVAL JV race.

Keys to Success: Execute like last year. One of the big three is gone, but Logan has the fire power to go to Fresno this year. Their depth is questionable, but so is the depth of every other team in Division 1. Their #5 returner is the second fastest #5 in the section and their two front runners are the second best one, two punch behind the Abdos.

Monte Vista-The common theme for most team in Division 1 this year is the lack of depth.  This is not the case for the Mustangs. For starters, Monte Vista returns five athletes from last year’s NCS team and the fifth runner Megan Blair is better than anyone else’s returning #4. Having finished in 57th place in 20:47, Blair finished two spots in front of Granada’s #4 and five spots in front of Logan’s #4. If they are that deep, then why are they only the third best returning team? The answer is that they don’t have anyone in the front of the race. Last year, Elena Smith was their fourth runner in 46th place, just behind Granada’s and Logan’s #3. That’s a sign of good depth as well, but Monte Vista’s #3 was Amy Ingram, who finished in 44th and their #2 was Ellie Harvey, who finished in 43rd. Both of those athletes were also behind Granada’s and Logan’s #3, not to mention Berkeley’s and just in front of Amador Valley’s. Monte Vista can be encouraged that they have a great pack that finished 43rd, 44th, 46th and 57th, but they need more help up front. That help could be on the way. Kat Smiley was the team’s #1 last year and got better and better throughout the year. She finished tenth at the EBAL Championships, but then came back to finish tenth at NCS, just missing out on a state spot. She came back during the track season to run 5:21.62 and 11:50.62 getting better and better as the season went on. Last season was Smiley’s first cross country season and she went into it with track PRs of 5:45.25 and 12:40.80. When you look at the improvement, she has a lot to be excited about. The five athletes mentioned are all seniors and Monte Vista has gotten some clutch performances out of classes rich in seniors. As heavy underdogs, their boys team won NCS in 2007 and went on to finish 10th at the state meet and in 2009 the girls’ team stole the race from a highly ranked Castro Valley team. Rumor has it that Monte Vista has a top-notch freshman coming in to help out that corps of seniors as well. I do not know much about this girl (like what her name is), except that rumor has it that she could contend for a state spot individually. If true, that could move Monte Vista into the position of favorite. The other person who could come in and help right away is Amy Ingram. As mentioned above, Ingram finished 44th at NCS last year, but in both her freshman and sophomore year she finished 13th. If Ingram can return to that form, Smiley can continue to improve, and the freshman is as good as billed, they will have the front-running to contend and they are already the deepest team in the field. If it needs to be stated, this Monte Vista team is dangerous.  Potentially adding to Monte Vista’s depth is sophomore Caroline Carey, who finished 5 th in the EBAL Frosh/Soph race as a freshman and ran a time of 5:37.22 in the 1600.

Keys to Success: Monte Vista has seniors and they have experience, but those facts alone do not guarantee that Monte Vista has leadership. Someone needs to push this team and that person probably has to be Smiley. They have enough good runners to be in the race, but they can’t get comfortable in that pack sitting around 40th place. The group needs to move up to the high 20’s or low 30s at least and some of them have to become front runners. A fast freshman would help a lot, but one person cannot qualify a team to state in cross country. In the end, it will be the veterans who decide the fate of their team.

San Ramon Valley-The Wolves move back from Division 2 looking to hunt the big game in Division 1. Although their competition will be tougher than last year, this year’s version of San Ramon Valley Cross Country should be better also. It starts at the top with Christine Bayliss. The former age group star will be among the favorites for the individual title as she won the Division 2 title as a freshman in 17:47 (six seconds slower than Pianin in Division 1 and two seconds faster than Abdo). She went on to finish 12th at the state meet in 18:05, (two seconds slower than Pianin and nine seconds faster than Abdo). She proved she was no fluke on the track, running times of 5:01.48 and 10:48.43. She will be joined by juniors Carly Lutz and Kailey Dunlap, who like many of the young SRV runners, had breakthrough seasons on the track. After finishing just 22nd at the EBAL meet, 24th at NCS, and 146th at State, Lutz ran a 5:27.93 1600m and an 11:44.62 3200. Similarly, Dunlap placed 25 th, 35th and 133rd at EBAL’s, NCS, and State, but came back to run 5:32.27 and 12:22.11 for 1600m and 3200m. Veronica Wentkler, Jessica McClelland, and Regan Leach have all run at least 6:00 for the 1600m and have 3200m times under 13:00, but the most pivotal aspect of this team might be the participation of Kaitlyn Eklam.  Eklam did not run cross country as a freshman, but came on in the spring to run 5:25.07 for 1600m and 2:22.81 for 800m. Although her 800m time suggests her speed is more her strength than her endurance and I could not find an instance of Eklam running 3200m, San Ramon Valley has a history of turning fast middle distance runners into strong cross country runners. Her addition to the squad would make Dunlap and her 12:22 3200m their #4 runner and Leach their #5 with her 5:45 1600m. Of that top five, all are underclassmen and there is an excellent chance that someone in the bunch makes a big jump. It looks like this team is set up for next year, when they could be downright scary, but the Wolves have been to state for the last two years and probably won’t be looking to take a year off, no matter what division they are competing in.

Keys to Success: Besides getting Eklam to join the team, which would be a tremendous boon to the program, SRV needs to keep developing girls like Wentkler and McClelland, who have shown ability, but need to improve to impact a state level team. Besides those two, Lauren Reed finished 3 rd in the EBAL Frosh-Soph meet last year, Amanda Saunders won the EBAL JV meet, and Christy Hammill also comes in with a 5:53.90 1600m pr. If any of those runners make a big jump it pushes San Ramon to the next level.

Boys (Alphabetical)
Amador Valley-The 2012 Amador Valley Dons look to be the best team that the school has fielded since 2008, when they finished second in NCS and went on to finish 11th at the state meet. If all goes well, this team has the potential to surpass that team. The 2011 Dons were well ahead of schedule when they qualified for the state meet with just one senior and now, with experience on their side, they head into 2012 with a sense of purpose. This team is not about one guy as there are no superstars on it, but there are at least seven athletes capable of running well under 16:00 at Hayward. Senior Jacob Schlachte did so last year, finishing 9th in 15:57 and backed it up on the track running 4:28.1 and 9:58.99 for 1600m and 3200m. If not for illness the week of NCS, season long team leader Connor McCarthy probably would have, but instead was forced to settle for a 16:54 finish, outside the teams scoring five.  Everything McCarthy did last season though, suggests that he will be in the top group of runners if he can get to the meet healthy. Until NCS, the Dons’ senior had been the top runner in every race including a victory in the Large School race at the Ed Sias Invitational. McCarthy was also a sub 4:30 1600m runner in the spring, coming in at 4:29.38 and more impressively, he ran 9:41.63 for 3200m. The rest of the Dons’ team is comprised of a mix of youth and veterans. Seniors Kevin Huey and Dan Arthur have proven to be leaders with strong credentials of their own, with Huey running 16:05 at NCS last season along with 4:40.92 and 10:12.23 and Arthur having run 4:35.47 on the track along with 10:15.90. The youth movement began last year with sophomores Peter Schlachte and Zach Beston. Schlachte finished 14th at NCS as a freshman, running 16:10, then followed it up with a fine 4:39.04 and 10:07.06 in the spring, where Beston ran 17:12 at NCS, but continued to improve through the track season by running 4:42.91 in the 1600m and 10:34.90 in limited opportunities over 3200m. The true up and comer of the group is junior Conner McKinnon, who made a name for himself on the track last spring, running the 800m in 1:54.50, the 1600m in 4:31.04, and the 400m in 49.99. In his first cross country season last fall, McKinnon finished 15th at NCS in 16:12. McKinnon is recovering from a stress fracture suffered at NCS MOC, but if he can get healthy and fit, expect a big improvement from him.

Keys to Success: Last year, Amador Valley’s harriers had the tightest pack in NCS. They had a scoring gap of less than forty-five seconds in five separate races and the gap was under one minute in seven of their eight varsity races. Each athlete on the team showed progress during the track season, but because there is no true star, it will be important for this group to continue to move up together and make sure that the fifth guy gets across the line as close to the first guy as possible.

Castro Valley-After a year of relative irrelevance, the Trojans find themselves back among the better teams in the division. Last year was the first time since 2004 that the Castro Valley boys were not represented at the state meet as rising senior Matt Eva was the unlucky first man out after finishing in 8th place. Although the team will not be a favorite to qualify for the state meet, between Eva and sophomore Carter Mackey, Castro Valley has a couple of runners who will find themselves in a familiar position amongst the front of the NCS race. As a freshman, Mackey ran 16:23 at NCS for 29th and had a PR of 16:19 on the course from the HAAL Championships. He also ran 4:43.08 and 10:07.91 on the track, which are among the top times in the section for freshmen. Brandon Arias and Alvin Lin should provide support behind the two front-runners. The two seniors have recorded competitive times on the track with Arias running 4:46.93 for 1600m and 10:18.38 for 3200m and Lin running 4:48.39 for 1600m.  The two will need to improve their times at Hayward as they have run just 17:09 and 16:59, but the times on the track suggest they can. Despite not running track (or maybe I just couldn’t find any results) Sophomore Jeffery Van is also a scoring candidate after finishing 65th in NCS as a freshman in a time of 17:12. Who will round out the top seven for the Trojans is anyone’s guess. Seniors Imran Meskienyar, who returns from last year’s NCS squad and Daniel Nourot, who was a top JV runner might have the inside track, but sophomore Prannay Grandi and junior Jacob Boisse could be anxious to come up and take those spots.

Keys to success: Although Castro Valley should be much improved from last year, a whole lot has to go right for them to reach the podium. Their best chance of having representation in Fresno is if Eva, or Mackey, or both can come through with the front pack, but the team finish will be contingent on the supporting cast. Whoever ends up in those third, fourth, and fifth spots can’t be satisfied with moderate improvement. They have to think big and take some risks for the team to get to receive any awards in the Hayward High School gym on November 17th.

Granada-The Matadors look to be rebuilding this year as their top two runners, Grant Salk and Tyler Menniti, graduated in the spring and they don’t appear to have the depth to fully cover those losses. It is a credit to the Granada program that I can make a comment like that and the team is still good enough to compete for a spot in the top five. That said, there are some real question marks associated with this team. The first, is senior Nickolas Winter. Winter was Granada’s seventh man at NCS last year at NCS, running just 17:41, but he was credited with the win in the 1600m at the Top 8 Invitational in track, running a time of 4:26.68. It was the only time I could find for Winter under 4:47.45, so it is possible and not improbable that the Top 8 result was actually a different runner (Salk ran in the mid-4:20’s most of the season, so it could have been him).On the other hand, if Winter really is capable of that kind of time and can translate it to cross country, then the Matadors are off to a good start. The top returner from NCS last year is senior Josh Knight. Knight put together an impressive race running 16:15 for 19th place. Senior Spencer Jeppson was also competitive last year at NCS, finishing 33rd, notching a time of 16:28. Curiously though, Knight and Jeppson did not follow up those performances with matching track seasons, as Knight ran just 4:43.56 and 10:42.21 and Jeppson just 10:57.34 with no data about other events contested. Senior Joe Burton is also an NCS returner, having run 17:22 last year, but his 16:44 to finish 2nd in the EBAL JV race indicates he was capable of better. It looks like it will be up to the Austins to round things out. Austin Horning and Austin Hogatt, both juniors have run 4:50.31 and 4:50.17, with Horning also running 10:57.31. Horning ran 17:18 at the EBAL championships last year, signaling about 17:30 capability at Hayward, where Hogatt ran just 18:31 in the frosh-soph race.

Keys to Success: Granada is known to put in their work over the summer, which is what can lead to real transformation going into cross country season. If everyone does that, the Matadors are not as far away as they might look. With two runners at sub 16:30 last year and the possibility of another 4:26 runner, they have the makings of a strong front pack. The other guys are close enough that given a big summer, they could make the jumps to the mid 16’s. For the continuity of the program, Granada needs to find some younger athletes. They may not need to contribute on the varsity level, but they don’t have anyone on the radar at all who is younger than a junior this year.

San Ramon Valley-The last time the Wolves resided in Division 1, all they did was win the thing and go on to finish 9th at the state meet. Where the division is a lot tougher to win this year than it was back in 2009, and the Wolves’ stars might not be as well-known as they were that year, San Ramon Valley is too good to be flying under the radar. They return three top ten finishers from last year’s Division 2 Championship team, all of whom ran under 16:00 on the Hayward course. Seniors Matt DeVries, Carl Wilke, and Zach Hanze finished fourth, fifth, and ninth with times of 15:42, 15:47, and 15:51 and will not be intimidated by the leaders in the Division 1 race. On the track, DeVries was a Jack of all trades, running 1:59.22, 4:26.13, and 9:47.25, Hanze was the true long distance guy running 9:50.62 and adding a 4:33.28 and Wilke was an 800m specialist with a best in that event of 1:56.77. He also scraped under 4:30 running 4:29.29. Although it is unclear who will round out the scoring for San Ramon Valley, they have lots of resources to choose from. The most likely prospects are senior Jake Pisenti, who finished 3rd in the EBAL JV race last year and also ran 4:37.09 and 10:02.75 in the spring and Jason Intravaia who won both the frosh-soph 1600 and 800 at the EBAL meet with times of 4:37.92 and 2:03.23. Intravaia also finished tenth in the EBAL frosh-soph cross country race. In all, San Ramon Valley returns twelve athletes with sub 5:00 1600m credentials and ten who have run under 11:00 for 3200, so they have a long list from which to choose. To this point though, outside of DeVries, Wilke, and Hanze, and to a lesser extent Pisenti, no one has proven himself to be a good enough cross country runner to score on a state level team.

Keys to Success: Although SRV has been the best team in all of NCS at producing strong middle distance
runners, it’s been a long time since SRV has had a top 3200m runner. They always have multiple athletes running in the low 4:20’s (and a couple under) and sub 2:00, but haven’t really had many guys in the 9:30’s or below. Parker Deuel was good, but with times of 1:55 and 4:15, even he was more of a mid- distance guy than a 3200m guy. You probably have to go all the way back to Scott Bauhs (who has an incredible invitational named after him on September 21st) to find a premier runner for the Wolves whose best event was the 3200. That has not stopped them from rolling out some of the NCS’ top cross country teams. Still, 800/1600 guys do not always translate to cross country and behind the top three, this group appears more shaky than in previous seasons. Although there are a few young guys, like Patrick Mulholland, who ran 10:37.75 as a freshman last year, SRV’s crew is made up of juniors and seniors who have been much stronger in shorter distances to this point. They have so many guys who could emerge, starting with those already mentioned, to juniors Ryan Colaco, Austin Reifers, Dominic Mota, and Tyler Gambill, but a few of them actually have to do it. If they do, they could easily make it to Fresno and once there, could do some damage.

Santa Rosa-I received more questions last year regarding Santa Rosa’s preseason ranking (#3) than anything else that I wrote. It was a testament to their team then when they actually finished third. So often when looking at a cross country team, people look at the top runner and when he or she is not a top runner, the team is overlooked. I think that is what happened when others looked at Santa Rosa last year. The team had no flash, but many intangibles, including a small scoring gap, lots of NCS experience (six returning runners) and a lot of veteran leadership. Although a strong #1 runner provides a low score, when your top runner is not separated as far from the rest of the team, the pack can move together. When teams are so closely bunched, and the whole team is able to do basically the same workout, with similar splits, they really do get the sense of “We are doing this together.” That was a benefit they had last year during the season, and then, which no one predicted including myself, their #1 runner had the race of his life and won the NCS Championship individually. I still don’t know how that happened as Michael Tomasi simply put it all together that day. Although there are some key differences to last year, the construction of this team is very similar to 2011. On the negative side, this year’s team only has four returners, not six, so it will be up to those athletes to share with the younger group what the race at NCS will be like. They look to also have less depth than they did last year after you get beyond the four returners. Last year’s team had seven athletes with sub 5:00 1600m credentials, where I could only find four for this year’s unit (although I could not find track results for several of the athletes who figure to round out the top seven, so there could very easily be more. It is not likely that any of those athletes ran significantly faster than 5:00 though or I probably would have found them). On the positive side though, the four runners who are returning for Santa Rosa, appear to be a much stronger top four than what they had coming back last year. The 2011 team did not have a single returner under 17:00 at Hayward the year before. This year’s team will feature three. Senior Michael Kennedy ran 16:13, junior Aiden Holmes ran 16:22, and senior Jonathan Ahnberg ran 16:42.  Also returning is senior Chris Nazarek, who ran 17:18 last year. Nazaerek’ 17:18 would have been the #2 returning time for Santa Rosa last year and he appears to have made the biggest strides during the spring track season running 4:34.68, the fastest on the team. This is a group that had the experience of overachieving last year and that is not soon forgotten. Performing well when it counts is a practiced skill and when it is learned it is much easier to recreate. Division 1 is stronger this year, so once again, they won’t be the preseason paper champions, but don’t be surprised when in November the orange and black are climbing the hill in third mile with the pack of contenders.

Keys to Success: This team needs to carry its momentum from 2011 into 2012. Along the way the four returners will need to find a fifth man. Junior Brian Juarez could be that guy as he finished 7 th in the NBL JV race last year. He ran 4:47.9 and 10:46.70 as a freshman, but as far as I can tell, did not run as a sophomore. Ulises Esparza and Ethan Foster also finished in the top twenty of the NBL JV race last year as freshmen, so they may be guys to look at as impact sophomores this season.

Girls Top 5
1) Granada-Has experience and talent
2) Amador Valley-Talent without the experience
3) Monte Vista-Plenty of depth, but no proven front-runners
4) San Ramon Valley-Needs to make the pieces fit together
5) James Logan-Plenty up front, but needs to close out the top 5

Boys Top 5
1) De La Salle-Heavy favorites
2) Amador Valley-My favorites
3) San Ramon Valley-Won’t be content with third
4) Santa Rosa-Has a chance to recreate the magic
5) Castro Valley-On their way back to the top

10 comments:

Andrew said...

holy cow...incredible and diligent work Coach Oswalt! Thanks so much and it was worth the wait! You hit the nail on the head for our team (Berkeley). We've got to get 4 and 5 in order, but I think we have some strong contenders. And this gives me some great insight on all the other teams ;).

I believe Monte Vista's freshwoman is Brooke Starn: 4:45 1500 and 10:23 3000.

Anonymous said...

de la sale has never been the same team since the graduation of Thomas houser back in 2011. And now that Walter Brennan is gone, he will be missed big time. But at the end of the day de la sale high school is a man amongst boys when it comes to high school sports, making even schools as good as San Ramon valley, look like little girls when it comes to competition. Matt Schuman is going to be a stud next year and my prediction is that he leads the Spartans to victory

HeyAmielHere said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amiel Capinpin said...

Actually, my 3200 pr was 10:22, not 10:47.

Mattern said...

Jason this is amazing! Way over-the-top detailed. I loved it.

I think that all of the teams you discussed and analyzed were the potential contenders. My order for the top girls teams is different, especially when I considered the superfrosh girl who will be at MV.

1. MV - strongest pack, they can get 5 in before most teams get 4.
2. AV - you've got two sub 5 min. 1600m girls, and a lot of new girls that could have dramatic improvement
3. Berkeley - gets edge over Granada by returning a faster 1-3.
4. Granada - returns 4 from last year's team but 2 of them don't run track
5. San Ramon - made nice improvements in track and has the ability to put it all together.
6. Logan - returns the best 1-2
7. Freedom - returns the best #3

I will add that the difference between these teams is not significant and I agree with your statement about the NCS race coming down to the final hill.

On the boys side I think that SRV, DLS, and AV will separate from the rest of the teams. On any given day any of them could win. The biggest problem I see for these teams is that D1 only gets two spots and probably all three teams deserve to go to state.

Yes the time for Nick at Top 8 was Grant. Both of them competed in that race but somehow names got mixed up.

Again, awesome job Jason.

NCSfanboy said...

Jeez, the EBAL domination of this division is crazy

Anonymous said...

This is the year of 1-2 punch teams for D1 girls it seems like

Anonymous said...

anyone remember what happened last time SRV was ranked 3rd in NCS D1?

NCSfanboy said...

SRV will be one of the big 3 in D1, thats for sure. But on paper it looks like it's going to come down to DLS and Amador Valley again.

Conor Dunn said...

Jason, way to go on these rankings. It's obvious that you put a great deal of work into these and I am very impressed.

However, as an SRV coach, I do hope you are wrong!

Conor