Davis High sophomore Fiona O’Keeffe already is having a season for the ages as she prepares to defend her Sac-Joaquin Section cross country individual title on Saturday.
After capturing the section crown as a freshman, O’Keeffe has not slowed down a bit. In fact, she regularly leaves her competition — as well as records — in the dust. In 2013, O’Keeffe has won six races, including four in a row, and set two course records as well as a new section benchmark.
The outstanding achievements have the Blue Devil speedster currently ranked third out of all high school girls in the state. Among Division I runners, O’Keeffe tops the list.
One of O’Keeffe’s most impressive victories this season came on Nov. 2 at the same place she will run on Saturday, the Willow Hill course in Folsom. Racing on the 5,000-meter course, the DHS standout crossed the line in 17 minutes, 36 seconds — the fastest time ever run there since 2004, when it began hosting the SJS Championship meet.
DHS freshman Sofia Castiglioni, who came in with the eighth-fastest time in section history (18:23) at those Nov. 2 Delta Valley Conference finals, says it is more than natural talent that makes her good friend such a great runner:
“Fiona is very determined,” Castiglioni said. “She is persistent, hardworking and always runs with a purpose.”
When she was growing up, O’Keeffe tried playing other sports, but says it always seemed like she was just meant to run.
“I used to play rec soccer, but most of the time I was just running back and forth anyways,” she added.
O’Keeffe’s focus on running has served not only the Devil cross country team, but also the track squad. Last season, she followed up her appearance in the CIF state cross country meet — where she took sixth place and eventually qualified for a national event — by earning a state-meet berth in the 3,200 meters.
Though she is undoubtedly one of Davis’ premier athletes, O’Keeffe doesn’t consider herself a leader of the Devil cross country team:
“I don’t tend to think of myself as a leader,” she said. “I really look up to the older girls who have helped to shape our team into what it is.”
On Saturday, some of those more experienced runners — like seniors Sophie Meads and Pooja Tripathi and juniors Giulia McIsaac, Maggie McManis and Jeanne-Marie McPherson — will work with O’Keeffe and Castiglioni as the Blue Devils look to unseat St. Francis, which edged DHS to win last year’s section team title.
“With how good Fiona is, she could be really cocky, but she’s not.” Castiglioni explained. “She is very team oriented.”
Veteran Devil coach Bill Gregg thinks what O’Keeffe does on the course provides leadership for the team:
“(Fiona) leads by example,” Gregg said. “She’s a quiet leader and doesn’t say much to the whole team, however, I see her being more vocal with the varsity girls.”
Something the entire team excels at, is training, and it should come as no surprise that O’Keeffe is one of the squad’s hardest workers.
“We meet for practice five days a week,” she said. “We usually have two harder workouts each week, and the other days are normal runs. On the weekend, we’ll get together for a long run if we don’t have a race. If we do, the day before is an easy, short run.”
And while that might seem like a lot of running for some people, O’Keeffe can’t get enough.
“Really loving the sport is my strength,” O’Keeffe said. “I’ve always enjoyed running, so it’s fun for me, not a chore.”
But passion can only take you so far. Gregg points out that O’Keeffe consistently wins races because “she’s great at processing race plans and strategies.”
If O’Keeffe can execute her strategy on Saturday the way she has all season, there could be another title in her already full bag.