By Zoe Juanitas,
Two buses packed full of groggy athletes departed the Veteran’s Memorial lot early Friday, Oct. 24 to attend the 67th annual Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational.
Due to a new rule restricting schools from entering more than seven runners in sweepstakes races and ten in the other divisions, head coach Bill Gregg and assistant coach Tim Groth were forced to make some tough decisions regarding who would be invited.
“We have a strict rule that anyone who has an unexcused absence cannot attend the meet,” Groth said. “We have 170 runners on the cross-country team but we were only able to take 88 competitors.”
The rest of the 96 invited athletes came as “cheerleaders,” a compromise made to honor their commitment to the team while also abiding by the race’s official rules.
A highlight of the day was junior Fiona O’Keeffe’s run of 16:28, which won her an individual title in the women’s varsity team sweepstakes, the most competitive race of the three-day meet. O’Keeffe’s time was also the fourth fastest girls time ever recorded on the 67-year-old course.
“Fiona’s effort was absolutely remarkable. When she’s ready to go, she’s a great competitor,” Gregg said.
Despite the absence of top runner Brian Song the men’s varsity finished 12th in the team sweepstakes, where the level of competition ran especially high.
“We didn’t have huge expectations, but even without Brian the rest of us ran [some] of our best races of the season,” said senior Charlie Harris, who ran a strong first mile with a time of 4:36, finishing the race in 15:58; third for DHS.
Led by O’Keeffe and sophomore Sofia Castiglioni, the women’s varsity took 3rd in the team sweepstakes, while the JV men’s and women’s teams both ran in the competitive National Championships, taking 16th and 9th places respectively.
After Saturday’s strenuous race filled with switchbacks and grueling hills, the runners were able to kick back and relax with a trip to Disneyland.
In addition to seeing the trip as an opportunity to reward committed athletes, Gregg also believes it gives the runners a chance to bond.
“I think living and hanging out and being with your teammates for three days makes us come back a different kind of team,” Gregg said. “And it’s also a great segue to get ready for championship season.”
That championship season is rapidly approaching, with the Delta League Championships meet on Saturday, Nov. 1.
“It will be the first time going into a league meet in a long time where we have to be ready to race,” he added, referring to newcomers to the league Jesuit and St. Francis.
In order to increase their chances of beating Jesuit, the men’s varsity runners “have been doing easy 4-5 mile runs on our own before school in addition to our normal practice as a way to boost our mileage,” senior Charlie Harris said.
Looking at the team’s success so far, Gregg is confident that the rest of the season will play out well.
“We still have work to do but I think we’re going where we want to go,” Gregg said.