By Kellen Browning,
Given the calm atmosphere and relaxed jogging taking place on Friday, Nov. 28 in Clovis, one could be forgiven for thinking that Woodward Park is merely a relaxing neighborhood destination.
But the next morning, evidence of Woodward’s 28-year-history hosting the CIF Cross Country State Championships was in abundance, as thousands of runners flocked in from all over the state. Davis High was well-represented in the Division 1 Girls race with a squad of seven varsity runners.
However, after a stellar season, including a victory at the Stanford Invitational and a 2nd place finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships, the women’s varsity team was unable to overcome the injuries and illness that have plagued them for the last month, and finished 11th in the state.
“[Senior] Giulia McIsaac hurt her Achilles, so that put her out,” said junior Jasmine Casillas, who was pulled up from JV to be DHS’ 6th runner.
“[Sophomore] Abbey Fisk got her hip [injured],” Casillas added.
The loss of those key runners, as well as junior Adria Lammers, led to Casillas, junior Elise Chu and senior Claire Dicker making the jump from JV to varsity.
But sickness spread throughout the team, leaving Chu and senior Maggie McManis also not at full strength Saturday.
Despite the setbacks, head coach Bill Gregg was impressed with his team’s effort.
“This is a tough meet, and you never know which way it’s gonna go. So, I think there’s some really great bright spots today, and maybe some other people will be a little disappointed,” Gregg said. “Our mantra was, ‘well, if you’re not at your best, give it your best.’ ”
Junior standout Fiona O’Keeffe certainly gave it her best; ranked number one in the nation coming into the meet, O’Keeffe successfully defended her state title in a race that Gregg described as a “tremendous effort.”
“I wanted to stay with the top pack through the mile and then try to go strong through the second mile, quickly break away,” O’Keeffe said.
O’Keeffe’s strategy worked, and she pushed the pace in a way that Gregg called “nerve-wracking.”
Her competition, senior Marissa Williams of Palisades Charter and junior Destiny Collins—who defeated O’Keeffe on the course earlier this year—were left in the dust as O’Keeffe stormed to victory in 16:57.
There were other highlights for the Blue Devils as well.
“For me it went well,” said Dicker, who was DHS’ fourth runner and ran just a second shy of her previous personal best of 20:02.
“I think considering everything […] we came out and raced tough. Things didn’t always pan out the way we wanted them to, but people gave it their all. I think [sophomore] Sofia [Castiglioni] had a really good day,” O’Keeffe said.
Castiglioni, who ran 23 seconds faster than she did earlier in the year at Woodward, was second for the team and 14th overall in the state.
And although the Blue Devils were unable to live up to their 2nd place finish from a year ago, they are already planning for the future.
“We’re graduating some people, but there’re some younger runners that look really, really promising,” Gregg said, naming freshmen standouts Hana Du, Sage Taylor and O’Keeffe’s younger sister Olivia as potential up-and-comers for next year.
“I think in terms of describing ‘windows of opportunity’ that cover multiple years, our window is still open […] for another year,” Gregg said.
The season is not yet done for O’Keeffe, who will compete in the Nike Cross Nationals meet in Portland, Ore. on Saturday, Dec. 6. O’Keeffe is the top returner from NXN and placed 4th in 2013.
“I’m going to try to get in there and compete to the best of my abilities, and we’ll see what happens!” O’Keeffe said.