Blue Devil cross country teams look primed for another run

By From page B1 | September 03, 2013

DHS' Blake Croft runs to a first-place finish in the boys sophomore race at last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Cross Country Championships. At left is Croft's Blue Devil teammate Charlie Harris, who took second. Carolee Gregg/Courtesy photo

DHS' Blake Croft runs to a first-place finish in the boys sophomore race at last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Cross Country Championships. At left is Croft's Blue Devil teammate Charlie Harris, who took second. Carolee Gregg/Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in an eight-part series previewing the Davis High fall sports.

One might think that the graduation of two-time Sac-Joaquin Section champion Jack Scranton would throw a giant monkey wrench in Davis High’s pursuit of a second straight boys cross country crown — which would be the 10th title in school history.

“You know, a lot of the scoring in this sport is about the grouping,” says Blue Devil head coach Bill Gregg, under whose watchful eye DHS has won 18 CIF pennants — nine for boys and nine for girls.

Does the 17-year mentor believe DHS can overcome the loss of Scranton and the steady Paul Mohr?

“I don’t think we have someone as fast as Jack,” Gregg told The Enterprise, “but I do think maybe we have a little better depth, tighter groupings.”

Seniors Jasper Laca, Ani Ramakrishnan and Daniel Rowen join with juniors Blake Croft, Charlie Harris and Brian Song and 10th-graders Ben Roberts and new-to-cross-country Nick Borowsky to create that quality depth.

Croft won section titles in the 2011 freshman boys race and the 2012 sophomore event. As a trackster last spring, he ran the fourth-fastest time among sophomores in the 800 meters.

“I think we can overcome (Scranton’s and Mohr’s) graduation,” the coach said, adding that if the Devils are to repeat as section winners, “of our top 10, a couple of those boys need to step up.”

On the girls’ side, Davis will be trying to jog past St. Francis, which blocked the runner-up Blue Devils in their efforts for a 10th section championship last fall.

There’s a seasoned cast looking to improve — and statewide experts believe these Devils could have it in them. For example, Runnerspace.com lists DHS at No. 8 in California (a few clicks below nemesis St. Francis at No. 3).

In 2012, Fiona O’Keeffe dazzled Northern California runners when the then-freshman earned the individual Sac-Joaquin Section honors.

Now a sophomore, O’Keeffe heads a corps of females that includes the brilliant senior Sophie Meads, and juniors Maggie McManis, Claire Dicker, the McIsaac twins (Giulia and Elisa) and Jeanne-Marie McPherson.

Seniors Danielle Gantar and Tripathi Pooja add point power. Gregg also has an intriguing list of 10th-graders and freshmen …

“There’s so many girls,” remarked the coach, who greeted another 125 runners at the beginning of summer workouts — which included a retreat to Soda Springs in an effort to have the leaders bond with the younger runners.

DHS has what Gregg called “watch-out-for people.”

Alexandra Diaz, Elise Chu, Adria Lammers and Jasmine Casillas form a sophomore quartet some observers believe could elevate their cross country acumen and turn in beyond-their-years fall efforts.

And Gregg loves what he’s seen from ninth-graders Sofia Castiglioni (Harper Junior High) and Abigail Fisk (Emerson), who he says “shows all kinds of talent.”

“This could be a very special year,” the coach said of his girls squad. But he cautions: “We still have to get past St. Francis.”

Davis finally gets into action Saturday when both squads are off to the Lagoon Valley Invitational in Vacaville.

Quickly  — on Tuesday, Sept. 10 — the Blue Devils test their collective mettle at the first Delta Valley Conference meet, which will be contested at Granite Regional Park (Sacramento).

DHS runs in the Hornet Jamboree (Sept. 14) and the Yolo County Championship (Sept. 21) before splitting harriers to attend the Stanford Invitational and Pacific Tiger Invitational.

The second DVC meet is Oct. 1, and is followed by three more invitationals before the conference finals on Nov. 2.

Subsections (Nov. 19) and sections (Nov. 16) precede what Gregg hopes will be a very Blue-and-White CIF State meet (Woodward Park in Fresno, Nov. 30).

Notes: Gregg was asked what makes for a good high-school runner: “The recipe is pretty simple … There’s got be some amount of natural talent. I look at talent on two different levels: one, is how gifted are they aerobically — how much oxygen can they deliver? Then, the other part is running mechanics — economy or efficiency. You can deliver lots of oxygen, but if you’re not very efficient, it doesn’t matter.” Oh, and Gregg says mentally “you’ve got to want it.” Put those elements together, mix in an injury-free campaign and a dash of well-placed coaching and you have the Gregg recipe for success.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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