By JOEL TIMBRELL
Alhambra high school junior Marissa D’Atri and Coach Angela Paradise made the three-hour trip to Fresno this past Friday, Nov. 25, for the 2016 California State Cross Country Championships just a few miles away at Woodward Park.
For California runners, the most prestigious meet of the year is State. Since the introduction of the first State meet in 1987, only five individual Alhambra girls and two teams (2001 and 2002) have made the cut. It is notoriously difficult to qualify as an individual from the North Coast Section.
Woodward Park features a hilly 5-kilometer course that starts from the center of the park. Runners go a half mile out towards the freeway before making a 180 degree turn to continue to the opposite side of the park. After climbing “Killer Hill” about 1.5 miles in, the runners return on the same path from which they started and end at the finish line right next to the start.
The Division IV boys kicked off the day at 8:30 a.m., and the Division V boys were next shortly after at 9 a.m.
When the clock hit 9:30 a.m. it was finally time for D’Atri to race in the Division IV girls section.
Using her experience from 2015, D’Atri bolted to the front of the race along with a group of twelve other opponents, which included Miramonte sophomore and rival Cassidy Haskell.
As they neared the first mile, Claudia Lane from Malibu High School of the Southern Section had opened up a huge lead on the field to pass mile one in a breathtaking 5:07, but the rest of the pack was still tight. Haskell led the chase group, passing through the mile in 5:28, while D’Atri followed closely just ten places back to split a 5:35 first mile.
Such a fast first mile took its toll on the vast majority of the runners, and the pace slowed down considerably. The group reached “Killer Hill” and made the steep ascent. Many runners struggled to keep up.
D’Atri took advantage of this and moved up a few places to hit the 2-mile mark in seventh place at 12 minutes, 30 seconds. At this point Haskell was 22 seconds ahead in 12:08.
With 1.1 miles to go D’Atri slowly but surely made up ground on Haskell through the lesser “Roller Coaster Hills”, while battling with runners from Notre Dame and Bret Harte for a coveted top-10 spot and medal.
Rounding the corner, it was within reach. D’Atri sprinted to the finish with Marymount’s Lindsey McAllister. The two battled the last hundred yards to the finish line, but it was D’Atri who would narrowly edge out McAllister for 11th place in 18 minutes, 35 seconds. While just short of making the podium, the time cemented her as one of the North Coast Section’s finest runners and a serious contender.
D’Atri was the 2nd-fastest runner out of every NCS runner in the Division IV race, only surpassed by Haskell, who took eighth in 18:22. In addition to this, she was 14th out of all NCS runners across Divisions I through IV, and posted the 105th fastest time with a total of 985 girls who raced during the day.
Lane won easily with the fastest time of the day for the girls across all divisions in a blazing time of 16:45, the third-fastest time ever at the CIF State Meet. Mari Friedman of Santa Cruz High School took second in 17:41.9. Foothill Tech High School won the team title with a score of 88 points.
Only two Bulldogs have ever made the State podium. Alhambra distance running legends Amy Loper-Riley (3rd place, 18:57) and Jessica Neu (10th place, 19:21) both medaled in the 1998 CIF State Championships. 3200 meter school record holder Eric Roberts nearly medaled as well in the 2001 State Championships, but finished just three seconds short at 16:24 and 11th place. Current St. Mary’s College distance runner and former Bulldog Allie Timbrell was also just a few spots away from the podium in 2014, where she crossed the line in 14th place at 18:30.
Upon completion of a fantastic 2016 cross country season, D’Atri and her Bulldog teammates look ahead to the 2017 track season for their next athletic achievements. For pictures and results, please visit www.alhambratrack.org.