For a Davis High cross country program that has tasted a smorgasbord of success — try 23 section titles between the boys and girls under veteran coach Bill Gregg — it isn’t easy to accomplish something new.
But the 2013 edition of the Blue Devil girls squad is doing just that.
Following a program-best second place finish at the CIF state meet last week in Clovis, DHS got an an-large invitation to the 22-team Nike Cross National competition set for Saturday at Portland Meadows in Oregon.
Heading into the meet, the Devils are ranked 16th in the country by Saucony Elite.
“(Making nationals) was in the back of my mind from the beginning (of the season) but not a priority,” Gregg told The Enterprise on Wednesday, just hours before he and his team traveled north.
“As the season unfolded, I began to understand that the girls really wanted to work for this outcome.”
And that’s just what it took, hard work. The local girls ran their hearts out to edge St Francis in the Sac-Joaquin Section championships Nov. 16, then moved up from eighth place to second in the final two-thirds of the 3.1-mile state meet race.
In both outings, standout Fiona O’Keeffe was the individual champion. Her state title came in 16:58, which is now known to be the fastest time ever for a sophomore, and the fourth-best girls time in the history of the Woodward Park course. O’Keeffe now joins Laurynne Chetelat (in 2007) as the only Blue Devil boy or girl to win a state championship.
“I was really surprised, I wasn’t expecting to run that fast,” O’Keeffe told FloTrack.org. “I wasn’t really going for a time, I was just racing for points.”
While O’Keeffe was brilliant in front, and had freshman teammate Sofia Castiglioni (17:54) close by in 15th, it was DHS’ depth which eventually came through.
The next five Devil runners — Giulia McIsaac (37th in 18:31), Sophie Meads (60th in 18:45), Maggie McManis (71st in 18:53), Jeanne-Marie McPherson (98th in 19:14) and Elisa McIsaac (180th in 21:09) — each scored key points as the locals edged third-place Trabuco Hills 149-154. It was also just enough to earn the invite to the Nike Nationals.
“Guila, Sophie, Maggie and Jeanne-Marie kept calm and started passing runners one at a time,” Gregg explained. “The phrase ‘every point counts’ could not have been any more true at the meet.”
The coach said Davis will use a similar strategy on Saturday, with O’Keeffe and Castiglioni running toward the front and the rest of the girls trying to “position and pace wisely early on and then push harder in the middle and later parts of the race.”
Fans who have watched or read about the Blue Devils this season know that the team means business, even as it prepares to take on the top opposition the country has to offer. But that doesn’t mean it can’t enjoy the experience — and even pick up some knowledge along the way.
“Nike will be an amazing experience,” Gregg said. “Part of the experience will be the race. The girls … will be carefree, but they are taking the race seriously, too, and look to have a solid performance. With this field of teams from across the country, it’s hard to predict where they might finish.
“In the back of their minds, they are thinking that they could come back next year, so they want to learn from the experience this year.”
Watch the race live with coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. at www.runnerspace.com/nxn.