* Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a nine-part series previewing the Davis High fall sports.
To put it simply, last year’s Davis High girls cross country team was the best in Blue Devil history, finishing a program-best second place at the CIF state championships and earning an at-large berth to the national meet in Oregon — another DHS first — where they took 12th.
So head coach Bill Gregg can’t possibly think the Devils can perform that well again, can he? No, Gregg thinks they have a chance to be even better …
“I honestly think that (this year’s team) will be better than last year’s,” the veteran distance coach told The Enterprise. “They have the potential, they have the talent (and) they’ve got the drive. … They’ve got more confidence as well.”
The talent Gregg talks about comes from up and down the roster. Junior superstar Fiona O’Keeffe won the individual state championship with a time of 16:58 — the fastest ever by a California sophomore girl and the fourth-best girls time in the history of the CIF meet.
The two-time Sac-Joaquin Section individual champion has reached the national meet in each of the past two seasons.
Some of O’Keeffe’s toughest competition this season could come from sophomore teammate Sofia Castiglioni, who, placed 44th at nationals as a freshman. Other young standouts include sophomore Abby Fisk, who had an excellent section meet last year, and junior Adria Lammers.
When it takes the course for its season-opening meet on Lagoon Valley Invitational on Saturday at Vacaville, Davis’ youthful exuberance will be balanced out by a solid senior core as runners like Giulia McIsaac, Maggie McManis and Jeanne-Marie McPherson are back after each had strong showing in the national event. Elisa McIsaac and Claire Dicker also are expected to run well, giving the locals five experienced senior standouts.
Those seniors will be filling the voids left by the graduated Sophie Meads and Pooja Tripathi, each of whom contributed to the Blue Devils’ amazing run last season.
“(Sophie) was kind of the heart and soul of last year’s team,” Gregg said. “I will say that Maggie (McManis) was, in the background, kind of driving where the team went, so I’ll be expecting her to provide some leadership (this year).”
The shift in leadership responsibilities won’t be the only thing different this fall as DHS also will be competing in a new league. The Delta Valley Conference is no more, putting the Devils into the new Delta League, which includes Davis’ main rival, St. Francis.
The Blue Devils narrowly edged out the Troubadours to capture the 2013 section title and the two teams will be seeing a lot more of each other this year. But don’t expect the added competition in league meets to change Gregg’s tried-and-true approach to the season.
“If it makes sense, and doesn’t get in the way of our preparations for the section championships, we’ll go all-out at (the league meets),” Gregg explained. “But because we’re not dependent on (doing well in league), I’m not going to sacrifice end-of-season goals for league competition.”
It’s a plan that worked pretty well last season.
— Reach Spencer Ault at email@example.com