* Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series looking at the state meet-bound Davis High cross country squads and visiting with Blue Devil head coach Bill Gregg about what makes the local program so popular and successful. Today’s installment looks at the girls team.
EL DORADO HILLS — First it was a lone coyote that ventured down the hill. Then a flock of wild turkeys came out of the bushes. Above, red-tailed hawks circled, then swooped lower, apparently for a better look.
The fuss? Davis High’s cross country contingent was working out on the hilly country fixin’s supplied by Brown’s Ravine Trail at nearby Folsom Lake Marina.
On Nov. 10, the Blue Devil boys captured the Sac-Joaquin Section championship. That same day, the local girls finished second. Now, both teams are training for the state meet this Saturday in Fresno.
Apparently, word’s out — even in the Wild Kingdom. These DHS runners are something to see.
While the girls were runners-up to powerful St. Francis in the finals, Davis freshman dandy Fiona O’Keeffe put an exclamation point on her brilliant fall season by taking the individual section crown with a run of 18:08.
Her teammates — Giulia McIsaac, Maggie McManis, Sophie Meads, Laura Daggett, Laney Teaford and Danielle Gantar — all finished in the top 30.
“St. Francis was just unbelievable,” Gregg said, looking back at the Sac-Joaquin race at Willow Park (Folsom). “They had it all together. Their 3-4-5 runners were less than 10 seconds apart … it’s hard to break that up.”
So, is either school a contender for a podium visit this week?
Gregg, in his 15th season as DHS coach, says a recent conversation with his girls showed him the Devil distaff is in it to win it.
“I asked the girls, ‘Do you still think you can beat St. Francis? The answer was ‘Yes, we can,’ ” Gregg said. “So, by connecting the dots, I think the two schools (Temecula’s Great Oak and Simi Valley) in front of St. Francis (ranked third in California) and us are pretty solid — but I’ve seen stranger things happen.”
In addition to O’Keeffe’s gold medal finish at sections, McIsaac was a solid fifth in 18:45, McManis went 19:14 for 12th and Sophie Meads’ 19:25 was right behind in 13th. Slight improvements on everyone’s effort could put Davis eye to eye with its Troubadour buddies in a pitched battle for a team medal.
Throw in points from Daggett, Teaford and Gantar and those “stranger things” Gregg has seen could materialize Saturday.
The Blue Devils are ranked No. 5 in the state by PrepCalTrack.com.
So has O’Keeffe, the Holmes Junior High ninth-grader, been a surprise to the prep harrier world or her coach?
“She’s a Catholic-school kid from Sacramento, and when I found out she had decided to come to Davis, it was easy to follow her performances as a seventh- and eighth-grader,” Gregg told The Enterprise.
Those two years before enrolling at Holmes, O’Keeffe had run in the Halden Invitational. She clocked an eye-popping 5:11 in the 1,600 meters one spring.
“I knew then she was going to be a very, very good runner,” Gregg said, smiling.
Now statewide experts also have noticed …
The state’s top seven rated runners, according to PrepCalTrack.com editor Rich Gonzalez, are junior Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley), senior Hagen Reedy (Buchanan of Clovis), Marissa Williams, a sophomore from Los Angeles Palisades, seniors Jena Pianin (Amador Valley) and Kiara McIntosh (Paloma Valley), Megan Huebner, a junior from La Quinta) and O’Keeffe at No. 7.
The girls Division I will be contested at Woodward Park (10:05 a.m. on Saturday). The 5,000-meter course features terrain ranging from soft grass to trails, to mildly undulating hills and asphalt.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.