FOLSOM — The Davis High boys and girls cross country teams truly pushed it to the limit on Saturday at Willow Hill as the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships featured some incredible individual performances and a great battle in the girls race.
When all was said and done, the Blue Devils boys earned their second straight SJS title and DHS edged St. Francis, 37-43, in a wild finish to take the girls crown. Devil sophomore Fiona O’Keeffe, ranked first in the state in Division I, also defended her individual championship, setting a course record for the second time in three weeks with her time of 17 minutes, 20 seconds.
But the story of the day was what happened behind O’Keeffe in the girls race as the Blue Devils and the Troubadours — who finished 1-2 last season but with SFHS on top — engaged in a duel that featured team strategy and a whole lot of heart shown by all involved.
Davis came into the day ranked second in California, while St. Francis was just behind in third. With that in mind, the Devils and coach Bill Gregg came up with a very specific strategy for the meet:
Planning on an individual win by O’Keeffe (check), DHS figured the Troubadours’ top runner, Lauren LaRocco, would get second (check). The hope was that Blue Devil freshman Sofia Castiglioni would finish third (check, in a lifetime best 18:18).
Gregg thought SFHS would take the next two spots, which they did, putting the Davis fortunes in the hands of Giulia McIsaac, Maggie McManis, Sophie Meads, Pooja Tripathi and Jeanne-Marie McPherson, who needed to combine for a better finish than the Troubadours’ final four runners.
McIsaac did her job, finishing seventh in 19:12.
Behind McIsaac, McManis was locked in what Gregg called “the most intense one-on-one battle of the race” with St. Francis’ Camille Boudreaux. The two were both totally exhausted from the head-to-head competition and, with 450 meters to go, Boudreaux collapsed and couldn’t finish. McManis gutted out those final meters, finished 10th overall in 19:35 before collapsing herself from exertion.
“I think her strategy was to stay with me the whole race, so the whole time I was just gearing up for the end,” McManis said. “I was just laser-focused; I just wanted to finish.
“After the race, the girls all ran up to me and said ‘smile, Maggie, we just won sections’ but I was still a little out of it. I’m just so proud of the girls because this is something we have been thinking about all season. (Beating St. Francis) was definitely a good feeling.”
But even after McManis’ heroics, the outcome was still in doubt, especially when St. Francis’ Peyton Bilo crossed the line to take 13th.
Tripathi, who had battled an injury for the past two weeks, was not in the mix. That left Meads, a senior looking for her first section team championship after three years of being very close, and McPherson both needing to finish ahead of St. Francis’ Ariel Medina.
The pair was up to the challenge, moving up just enough in the final 400 meters to pass Medina and clinch the section title. McPherson was 18th in 19:56 and Meads took 21st in 20:04, just two seconds ahead of 22nd-place Medina.
“That’s why the races are 3.1 miles not just 3 miles,” Meads said with a laugh. “It just shows our toughness — I mean, Maggie ran herself to the ground but she made sure to finish first. And it also shows the belief we have in each other. Halfway through the race we thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen, but we kept going.
“It was awesome to win section, especially before I graduated, because I always we knew we were capable of it,” Meads added. “It’s really special because I know this team is going to just keep getting better next year and in the next few years and I was able to be a part of that.”
Though things went a bit smoother for the Davis boys, the 38-74 win over Sheldon also came down to perfect execution of their strategy and a group of Blue Devils who were running for each other.
“We spend so much time together running during the season and I can truly say these are my brothers,” said DHS senior Jasper Laca, who took fourth overall in 16:18. “It’s just impossible to put into words how great it feels to win and to do it with this group of guys.”
Favored coming in, the deep Blue Devils knew Sheldon and its top-end talent would be their biggest competition.
Huskies speedster Abdul Hamid ran well as expected, taking second overall, but Brian Song (third in 16:09) and Laca gave DHS key points by holding off Sheldon’s No. 2 Xavier Gaulman.
Another key was Devil sophomore Ben Roberts continuing his fine season by finishing ninth overall in 16:42, the same time as Gaulman.
Davis’ other runners have had success all season by forming a powerful pack and Saturday was no different as only three seconds separated Gavin Monges (13th in 16:51), Charlie Harris (14th in 16:52), Nick Borowsky (15th in 16:52) and Blake Croft (17th in 16:54).
All of them finished ahead of Sheldon’s 3-4-5 runners to give the Blue Devils what turned out to be a convincing win.
Both DHS teams, along with St. Francis and Sheldon, now head to the CIF state meet, set for Nov. 30 at Woodward Park in Fresno.