By JOEL TIMBRELL
The Bulldog cross country team officially kicked off their season last Saturday, September 10 at Martinez’s Hidden Valley Park for the 32nd Ed Sias Invitational.
During 2014 Hidden Valley Park was renovated for easier access to the disabled. This resulted in the original cross country course being slightly altered.
All runners start from the baseball field next to the elementary school and continue past the lake and across the bridge. They then make their way up to the soccer field and make a right following the path all the way to the narrow red bridge which leads directly into “Finale Hill.” After climbing this hill it’s a sprint to the finish line down at the grass field.
With an attendance rating exceeding over fifty Bay Area High Schools, a total of 2,341 people competed on Saturday. Meet directors were actually forced to create an extra Junior Varsity race in order to accommodate the huge number of runners.
The races were broken up into Frosh/Soph, junior varsity, and varsity divisions for both genders. Each race saw everyone complete a distance of 2.0 miles. The top 10 runners in each race were awarded an Ed Sias medal.
At 9:00 a.m. the freshman boys race was on. First-year runner Carson Edwards used the previous week’s scrimmage race at Hidden Valley to his advantage, knocking 37 seconds off his “Little Ed” time with a personal best of 12 minutes, 26 seconds. In the insanely competitive race his very good freshman time left him just outside the top 20 at 22nd place overall. Teammate Dean Sobhy, who ran 15:09 the week before, finished with another outstanding improvement of 13:35.
While Edwards and Sobhy set the bar high, no one managed to cut as much time as Jaime Ayala. At the Little Ed Scrimmage, Ayala ran his first cross country race in 17 minutes and 6 seconds. On Saturday in his second race, he picked up the pace enough to finish in 14:59, a stunning 2 minute and 7 second improvement.
Following the other’s lead, Graham Manning decided to lower his season’s 2-mile time in the Frosh/Soph boys race with a 12 minute, 31 second performance.
At 11:05 it was the varsity boys turn to race. Seniors Connor Hayes and Robert Viano took their running to the next level as both set new personal records, with Hayes finishing at 11:21.9 and Viano just seconds back at 11:27.5. Two others broke the 12 minute mark, with Noa Nabeshima posting a time of 11:42.5 and Trevor Oliveira-Smith at 11:56.8.
2015 State qualifier Marissa D’Atri led the Bulldog girls team in the varsity division immediately after. This race included stellar runners such as sophomore Cassy Haskell of Miramonte and Concord’s Rayna Stanziano, who D’Atri battled in the 800 meters during the track postseason.
From the start D’Atri stayed with the lead group of runners. Even after ascending Finale Hill she would not be denied a medal. D’Atri used a sprint in the last stretch to hold off Las Lomas’ Veronica Towle for 10th place, finishing in a fast time of 12:47.1
Erica Cardinale and Nicole Tria fought it out for the second Alhambra finishing spot, with Cardinale’s time of 14:12 ending up ahead of Tria’s 14:23. Isa Mendoza also surpassed her prior week’s time of 18:39 with her finishing time of 16:42, making her the most improved Alhambra girl.
Each of the varsity teams exceeded expectations by finishing higher than they were supposed to, making the start of the 2016 season great. On the boys side Alhambra’s 9th place was enough to edge Acalanes, and the girls took 13th out of 24 teams.
On Saturday, September 17, the Bulldogs will make the trip to the Farmer Invitational at Hayward High School for a preview of the North Coast Section Championships Cross Country Race, which determines CIF State Qualifiers.