Cross country prepares for Nike Cross Nationals, reflects on stunning season

By Meghan Bobrowsky, Social Media and Multimedia Editor-in-Chief–

The stunning performances at Woodward Park’s CIF State Championships that qualified eight Davis High runners for Nike Cross Nationals was not an aberration. It followed some equally incredible moments throughout the season.


Two course records–by seniors Sofia Castiglioni and Michael Vernau–and a landslide first-place win for the varsity women’s cross country team in early September at the Lagoon Valley Classic were only a preview of what the DHS harriers hoped to accomplish this season.

Assistant coach Tim Groth admitted losing nationally ranked Fiona O’Keeffe, who now runs cross country and track for Stanford, was a big hit to the women’s team.

“The biggest struggle was trying to live up to last year. [The girls] won Sections, got second at the State meet by two points and got second at Nationals,” Groth said.

Both varsity teams gave solid performances at the next meet, the Jesuit/Davis Jamboree, while missing four scoring runners on the women’s side and still trying to compensate for graduated seniors Nick Borowsky, Willie Hall, Joe Blakewell and Kellen Browning on the men’s side.

“The seniors were a big foundation and big part of the team. The boys this year are getting to know each other as a new varsity unit,” Groth said.

The following weekend, Blue Devil jerseys were seen at two different cross country meets, the De La Salle Invitational in Concord and the Josh Ruff Memorial Invitational in Folsom. The girls conquered the competition up and down the three-mile course in Concord, accompanied by Vernau who ran 15:00.7 to win the Division I race. Higher quality competitors at De La Salle was the reason for the split up, Groth explained.

“The girls know what they need. Michael wants to race the best and people who are better than him,” Groth said.

The other boys fell short to Jesuit and placed fifth overall at the Ruff Invitational.

A week and a half later, both varsity teams ran a threshold effort at the Delta League Center at Granite Regional Park in Sacramento, holding back in preparation for the Stanford Invitational.

The race tactic paid off for the girls, who threatened to steal the first-place title from Great Oak until the third mile of the race. Great Oak, a Southern California powerhouse, who produced HSGameTime Girls Track Athlete of the Year Destiny Collins, learned their lesson about pack running after Davis beat them at last year’s Nike Cross Nationals.

The boys battled the top tier teams in California and secured 17th place overall.

Woodward Park in Fresno was the next stop for the high school athletes participating in the Clovis Invitational. The girls sought revenge against Great Oak after losing by 24 points the previous week. They could not deliver, however, and Great Oak’s margin of victory widened to 33 points.

Vernau ran solo in the Championship Boys 5,000 meter race against Armijo’s Luis Grijalva, crossing the finish line three seconds too late to snatch the first-place title.

“I enjoyed Clovis the most because Luis and I worked together to run a fast time,” Vernau said, reflecting on his achievement as the only Blue Devil in history to break 15 minutes on the course.

The other boys tested their depth against teams including El Toro and Arroyo Grande in the Division I Varsity Boys race, which resulted in a 14th-place finish overall.

Anticipation for Disneyland fueled the varsity teams through a series of strenuous switchbacks and two additional harsh hills, which could be alternatively characterized as miniature mountains, at the 69th annual Mt. SAC Invitational in Walnut.

Despite the absence of two key athletes, sophomores Annie and Ruthie Mitchell, the girls ranked fifth overall with a gap of 2:18 between the first and fifth runners. Vernau’s decision to not attend the meet impacted the boys’ team performance similarly, although the gap between the first and last scoring runners was only 35 seconds.

The idea of winning the Delta League Championship title occupied the harriers’ minds during the last week of October, leading to disappointment for the boys, who placed second to Jesuit by a narrow 20 points. The girls achieved their goal–taking six of the top 10 spots–despite sloshing through the thick mud and nonstop downpour of rain.

After a long regular season, the Blue Devils were ready for the first postseason championships–Sub Section Championships at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp.

The girls dominated the race by pack running, which resulted in a time spread of less than one second between first and final scoring runners. The boys executed a solid effort, effectively securing fifth-place overall, which ended with Vernau being crowned the individual champion of Division I.

“Michael is always doing his thing. He had a different season goal from the rest of the team,” Groth said. “We didn’t know who our set seven (boys) were going to be until Sub Sections.”

Both teams qualified for the following week’s Sac Joaquin Section Championships at Willow Hills Reservoir hosted at Folsom High School. Castiglioni, junior Olivia O’Keeffe and senior Abbey Fisk finished 1-2-3 for Davis to seal the varsity girls’ 14th victory as Section Champions.

“We all had good races, and we got to see all of our training come together. It’s very exciting and hopeful to be able to dominate Sections,” Fisk said.

Vernau lost again to Grijalva by a meager two seconds, and the boys fared sixth-place.

O’Keeffe reviews the team’s progression from the first days of practice in August when temperatures reached 100 degrees regularly.

“I think the team, now, is peaking fitness, which is an obvious improvement from the beginning. Aside from that, I think we are much closer as a group which has helped to really fire us up as a whole to accomplish not only our individual goals, but the ones we are as a team as well,” O’Keeffe said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *