Much like their male counterparts, last season's chase for the NCS title was yet another 3 team affair featuring the top teams in the DFAL: Las Lomas, Campolindo, and Acalanes. They all waged a season long battle with Las Lomas coming out on top in DFAL competition only to see Acalanes rise to the occasion at the NCS finals and claim its first girls team title since 1986 as both Las Lomas and Campolindo incurred off days and finished 3rd and 4th respectively with Redwood grabbing runner up honors. It was the lowest finish by a Campolindo girls' team since 1994 (last time they didn't qualify to the state meet as a team), however look for the Cougars to yet again return to the dominance they are accustomed to as they attempt to win their 11th section crown. Campo returns 6 out of 7 from last years team, and had a phenomenal track season to put them squarely in the drivers seat as it stands now. Las Lomas returns their entire top 7 as they look to close down the gap while Redwood, Bishop O'Dowd and Miramonte look to lead the chase pack for the final 2 state meet berths. Again, I have no idea which teams will be getting fast freshmen or transfers, but on paper now this is how things look.
1. Campolindo: The Cougars are coming off of an impressive track season that saw 4 runners all run under 11:21 in the 3200. Frontrunner Brighie Leach, enjoyed an impressive postseason capturing the NCS MOC 3200m. title in 10:41 while Hana Sun enjoyed a breakout season clocking 11:16 over 3200. Veterans Mary Orders and Rachel Johnson also ran 11:16 and 11:21 respectively and both have personal bests of the sub 19 min variety on the Woodward Park course and will provide Chuck's Army with plenty of firepower upfront. Of course, in cross country, you are only as good as your 5th runner, something that Campo has in senior Haley Shipway who ran 11:39 during the spring, giving the Cougars a potent combination of front-running and depth that will be tough to beat. The number 7 runner for most of last season, Ellen Hann, also had a solid track campaign clocking 5:34 in the 1600 to go along with a 12:27 3200. Backing up the varsity returners are Hannah Mattioda, Robin Powell, and Emily Lawrie, who swept the top 3 places at last year's DFAL frosh/soph championships. If those three can continue to improve and close down the gap on the scoring pack, the Cougars will be lethal come championship season.
2. Las Lomas: The Knights return their entire varsity team from last season and will look to build upon last year's DFAL championship and 6th place finish at state. Sophomore Chloe Hansel followed up a top 20 finish at last years state championships with an explosive track season, running a 5:05 1600 and advancing to the NCS MOC finals. Megan Wenzel, Emma Hight, Madi Hight, and Clare Orton all ran under the sub 20:00 barrier at Woodward Park last season giving the Knights a tight pack margin between their 2-5 scorers. Out of the 4, Clare Orton (11:43 3200m) and Madi Hight (12:07 3200m) had the most productive track seasons. Closing down the pack margin will be critical to Las Lomas improving upon their past performances because despite having one of the better front runners in the section, the low points Chloe Hansel could potentially score would be negated if the number 4 and 5 scorers get caught too far back in the pack. As for now, the Knights looked primed and ready for another close battle with the rest of the DFAL as well as a return trip to Fresno.
3. Bishop O'Dowd: After narrowly missing a state meet berth the past two seasons, look for the Dragons to at long last punch their ticket to Fresno this season. Led by individual state qualifiers Emily Fiberling (19:10 at Woodward) and Julia Cooke (19:16 at Woodward), Bishop O'Dowd returns their entire varsity team from last season. Both also excelled in track as Cooke improved to a 11:29 3200 while Fiberling clocked a 5:08 1600. Behind them appears to be Meredith Nix, a 5:20 1600 performer and Alyssa Byer, the team's number 3 finisher at the NCS finals, who ran 5:29 in the 1600. Senior Miranda Dos Santos also dipped under the 5:30 threshold with a 5:28 to give O'Dowd five girls returning with 1600m. times under 5:30. The big issue will be translating these track times over to the longer and more rugged cross country courses.
4. Miramonte: The Matadors return five from last year's 6th place team and will look to make the jump this season into the top 4 and in doing so land their first state meet berth since 2005. Leading Miramonte are Lindsay Buckel and Georgia Roden who focused more on middle distance during track season and came away with identical 2:19 clockings for 800 meters. Also in the mix for the pack-centric team are Sarah Rockwood (12:01 3200) and Sondra Abruzzo (11:54 3200). A few ticks back would be senior Camille Anderson, running 12:09 in the 3200 and behind her would be Andrea Tamminga a 12:23 3200 performer. There are good and bad aspects to having a team that is really close together time and place wise, the good being the ability to work together during races, using the pack as a way to better manage the stresses of racing by sharing the burden among teammates. However, the bad side of this is that without a standout front runner it becomes much more difficult to wade through the throngs of runners on the course that are present in the middle pack of the race. Getting buried behind too many runners could significantly increase Miramonte's team score and hurt their chances of cracking the top 4. It will take a total team effort to move the entire pack up in fitness and race savvy, but as it stands now, the Mats have a great crop of athletes returning who are hungry to capture a state berth.
5. Acalanes: Defending champ Acalanes has been hit hard by graduation and only returns 3 members: Caith Wright, Mary Lewerenz, and Sammy Taketa. However, they return three quality frosh/soph runners in Brooke Lennox (5:39 1600), Raea Gragg (2:34 800) as well as Claire Inman who finished 4th in last season's DFAL frosh/soph cross country finals. After that, not much more is known but if the team can be consistent over the summer and rally around the new coaching staff, they could certainly improve upon this ranking and close the gap on the rest of the DFAL.
On the bubble: Redwood, Tamalpais, Albany.
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