By Kellen Browning,
Odd-numbered years favor the female Blue Devil harriers, or so it seems. Just as it did in 2013, the Davis High women’s cross-country team steamrolled the competition at the 29th CIF State Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 28 in Clovis, Calif., running the fourth-fastest team time in Division 1 state history.
Like in 2013, the Devils took second to perennial Southern California powerhouse Great Oak of Temecula, earning them a spot at next week’s Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) competition in Portland, Ore.
But this time, the margin of victory was much narrower. The final score was 44-46 in favor of the Wolfpack, but DHS gave U.S. No. 2 Great Oak—and the rest of California—quite a scare with the close finish.
“For a long time, Great Oak has seemed almost untouchable to us—coming so close to them was exciting,” said two-time state champion and senior Fiona O’Keeffe, who led DHS with an eighth-place finish. O’Keeffe hadn’t raced since early October due to tendinitis and nagging leg injuries, and was doubtful of her condition coming into the race.
“I was definitely just racing with the team in mind as the most important thing. I knew that my individual goals were likely out of reach, but our collective goals and dreams were definitely still intact,” O’Keeffe said. “So this race was absolutely about being the best part of the team that I could.”
After clearly giving it her all, O’Keeffe could barely stand afterwards, but her effort rewarded the team with the runner-up finish—and her teammates recognized the sacrifice she made to get them on the podium.
“It’s so inspiring, and to be on the receiving end of such an amazing effort really encourages me,” said freshman Sophia Lodigiani, who was fifth for DHS.
Separating the 2013 and 2015 championship squads was the ill-fated 2014 team, which finished a disappointing 11th at the state meet after several key runners succumbed to injury late in the season. O’Keeffe, though, was the state champion last year, and noted the different circumstances at this year’s meet.
“I think that achieving something together with a group of people who really care about each other is much more rewarding than accomplishing an individual goal but having the team fall short of its hopes,” she said. “Both years have been a bit bittersweet, but having everyone so excited over the team success this year was really great.”
After graduating several seniors from last year’s team, the Blue Devils replenished their talent, bringing in Lodigiani and getting huge improvements from sophomores Sage Taylor and Olivia O’Keeffe, Fiona’s younger sister.
And it was the newfound depth that carried the day for DHS, which got scoring from Fiona, juniors Sofia Castiglioni (ninth in 17:45) and Abbey Fisk (11th in 17:50), Olivia (13th in 17:52) and Lodigiani (23rd in 18:20).
Taylor (90th in 19:19) and senior Elise Chu (140th in 20:06) rounded out the top seven for DHS.
For Lodigiani, who was pulled up to varsity in the middle of the season, placing second and qualifying to NXN was a huge accomplishment.
“It was absolutely the best feeling I’ve ever had,” she said. “Right after the race, I was surrounded by all of my teammates and everyone that has supported us for so long and it was incredible and so perfect. It was like the end of a movie, except we still get to race one more time.”
That race will take place on Saturday, Dec. 5 on the Glendoveer Golf Course, where Fiona took fourth last year. This time, though, the Stanford University-commit isn’t even sure if she’ll run.
“I think it’s completely up to her now. Of course we want her to race, but not if she is in pain,” Lodigiani said.