CLOVIS — Sometimes it’s not how you start but how you finish. But at the CIF state cross country championships, it’s how you start and how you finish.
The Davis High boys and girls squad used impeccable strategy at the start and sheer will at the finish for a historic state meet performance at Woodward Park. Blue Devil sophomore Fiona O’Keeffe outran everyone else in California to earn the CIF individual title, her DHS girls squad took second overall and a Devil boys team that came into the race unranked dashed to ninth place in the state.
But wait, there’s more …
For the first time in the program’s rich history, the Davis girls team earned one of just 22 berths in the country to the Nike Cross Nationals, set for Saturday in Portland, Ore. The locals didn’t automatically qualify, but heard late Saturday that they would get an at-large bid.
O’Keeffe’s winning time of 16:59 Saturday was the second-fastest for a California sophomore since at least 1987.
The second Blue Devil finisher, Sofia Castiglioni, took 15th in 17:54, running what veteran coach Bill Gregg called “a fabulous race for a freshman.”
But the real key for the girls was race strategy, and it began at the starting line. According to Gregg, while the first mile of the CIF state meet is always fast, teams looking for a good finish must find a balance in that initial burst:
“The risk of going out too fast is like over-revving a race car’s engine and then limping to the finish line,” the coach explained. “However, if one goes out too slow, there are simply too many runners in front clogging up the lanes. Fiona and Sofia went out hard because their training and race results showed that they could handle being up front early in the race.”
The rest of the DHS girls — Giulia McIsaac, senior captain Sophie Meads, Maggie McManis, Jeanne-Marie McPherson and Elisa McIsaac — chose to go out conservatively. Though they were farther back than they had hoped to be after one mile (out of the top five), the Devil girls heard the real-time scores announced after the first mile and shifted into second gear.
After 2.1 miles (of a 3.1-mile race) another announcement had Davis in fourth place, so the whole crew turned on the afterburners, correctly predicting that every single point would count.
Up front, O’Keeffe was locked in a fierce battle with Destiny Collins, another sophomore whose Great Oak (Temecula) squad ended up as state champs, before the Blue Devil star pulled away in the final 1,200 meters. All down the line, Giulia McIsaac, Meads, McManis and McPherson passed as many runners as they could in that final mile and, when the scores were finally tallied, DHS had a second-place 149 — just ahead of Trabuco Hills’ 154 and Capistrano Valley’s 157.
Even one place higher for Giulia McIsaac (37th in 18:31), Meads (60th in 18:45), McManis (71st in 18:53), McPherson (98th in 19:14) or Elisa McIsaac (180th in 21:09) might have cost the Devils important points.
While the local girls used strategy and heart to move up three places from last year’s finish, the Davis boys moved up six spots, going from 15th last season to ninth place on Saturday.
Once again, the start was equally as important as the finish, according to Gregg:
“The boys’ challenge was to survive a wicked-fast first mile and then maintain position throughout the race,” said the coach. “Brian Song and Jasper Laca led the charge and continued forward. … The boys team came into the meet unranked in Division I and put together a great group effort.”
Song, a junior, and Laca, a senior, each ran lifetime bests at Woodward Park, with Song crossing in 15:43, good for 20th. Laca’s time of 15:51 put him in 34th, while the rest of the Blue Devils all finished within 31 seconds of each other.
Nick Borowsky capped a strong sophomore season with a 64th-place finish, with a career best of 16:10. Behind Borowsky were junior Charlie Harris (100th in 16:24), and sophomore Ben Roberts (106th in a lifetime best 16:25). Also setting career marks and finishing in the next wave were DHS’ Gavin Monges (119 in 16:34) and Blake Croft (133rd in 16:41).