By JOEL TIMBRELL
Two weeks after the DAL League Championships at Hidden Valley Park, the Bulldog cross country runners were ready for the most important meet of the season.
This past Saturday, Nov. 19, eleven of them made the short trip over to Hayward High School for the 2016 North Coast Section Championships.
NCS is considered the most important event of the year because it is the race which determines CIF State qualifiers. It is where the toughest competition is and where the fastest times are run all year, other than State meet.
In Division IV girls, the top four teams and top five individual runners qualify. The Division IV boys advance the top three teams and top five individual runners.
Nearly every year since 1999 has seen NCS Cross Country use the Hayward High School course. Runners start from the baseball field, make a loop around the dirt field adjacent to the track, and reverse towards the hill behind the baseball field from which they began. After that it is a few more loops around the field and up the hill once more before finishing the race on the grass to complete a total distance of three miles.
On Saturday, conditions were soggy and damp but not raining. The Division IV Boys started the day off with their race at 8:30 a.m.
Having already practiced the course at the Farmer Invitational in September, the Bulldogs knew exactly what they were doing.
At the start of the race, Hercules’ Ryan Cutter and Arcata’s Kellen O’Neill took off, leading a group of several Bishop O’Dowd runners. Senior Alhambra runners Noa Nabeshima, Connor Hayes, Trevor Oliveira-Smith and Robert Viano followed wave two of the runners and passed the mile mark in around 5:30.
By mile two, the Bulldogs were more separated, with all still running tough and on track to hit a personal record.
Coming up the final hill, it was Hayes in about 40th place who had the lead over his fellow Bulldogs. He rounded the corner and charged down the hill and toward the finish line, crossing it in his best 3-mile time ever of 16 minutes, 41 seconds. The time was good enough for 35th place.
Oliveira-Smith was the next to complete the distance with another huge PR of 17 minutes flat, while Viano was just seconds back at 17:06, also a PR.
The future of Alhambra distance running looks very bright because freshman Carson Edwards took the fourth Alhambra spot, crossing the line less than 10 seconds later at 17 minutes, 15 seconds. Edwards was the seventh fastest freshman in all of Division IV.
Rounding out the scoring runners was Nabeshima in 17:33, a season best time. Graham Manning notched another personal best as he edged out the clock for a sub-18 minute time with a 17:56, and Gabe Winslow brought it home by running a time of 18:08, yet another personal best.
The total team score of 292 points earned Alhambra a 10th-place finish out of 22 teams.
Two races later, it was time for the Division IV girls to run.
Fielding an incomplete team of just four runners (five makes a team), Marissa D’Atri, Nicole Tria, and Seniors Erica Cardinale and Isa Mendoza began on the starting line together.
D’Atri quickly broke away from most of the competition along with Miramonte’s Cassy Haskell and Gabrielle Peterson of Healdsburg. The trio passed mile one together, and at the 2-mile mark they were still very close.
As they approached the final hill, Haskell had roughly a 10-second lead as she started the incline. Then Peterson came into sight, with D’Atri on her heels about five seconds back.
In the final stretch, Haskell used her significant lead to win the race outright in 17:38. D’Atri then used her signature sprint to pass Peterson and finish the course in second place, easily punching her ticket to the 2016 California State Championships. Her time of 17:54.1 is the fastest any Alhambra girl has ever run at Hayward.
Tria also made some history as she ran the seventh-fastest Alhambra girls time ever of 19:30 to finish in 28th place, while Cardinale finished out her high school cross country career with a solid time of 20:07. Not to be outdone, Mendoza kicked it into high gear to accumulate another PR, ending up with a time of 22 minutes, 45 seconds.
Marissa D’Atri will make her second consecutive trip to the State Cross Country Meet at Woodward Park in Fresno this Saturday, Nov. 26, along with Coach Angela Paradise. She will look to improve upon her 2015 time and finishing place on the hilly 5k course.