Eighteen minutes and 27 seconds after the gun, their goal would be reached.
When Great Oak High School’s fifth runner, sophomore Maiya Larsen, crossed the finish line in 25th place, it secured the team’s final score of 57 points—and their second state Division I cross country title in three years.
“When Maiya went by, I knew for sure we’d won because they looked fantastic,” coach Doug Soles said after his team won the title Saturday in Fresno. “And then, right as soon as I thought we were good, boom, here comes Alexis [Messerly , sixth runner], so they were just great.
“I missed Kim [McNamee] because I think I was screaming, yelling and praying all at the same time but it was pretty amazing. I was excited.”
Runners-up Saturday at Woodward Park, with more than double the points, was the team from Saint Francis of Sacramento with 115 points.
In 2010, the Wolfpack returned with the top trophy. In 2011, with high hopes for a repeat, the girls came home humbled with a seventh-place finish.
Twenty-three teams and 36 individuals ran in this year’s championships. All five Great Oak girls would finish before Saint Francis’ second runner.
Great Oak’s collective time of 90:45 was the fastest ever run by a California Division I girls team. Saint Francis’ time of 92:40 was a Northern California record.
Woodward Park’s 3.1-mile course meanders through tree-lined paths on the north edge of Fresno at the gateway to Yosemite.
The 300-acre park is the region’s largest and is a fine, central location for the state’s annual meet.
As in golf, the lowest cross country team score wins. Individuals also run for the best place and jockey for position right to the finish line.
Those who finish lower still benefit their team score by displacing runners from other teams. The top 10 runners in each race at the state meet are recognized on the awards podium.
Race winner Sarah Baxter, a junior from Simi Valley High School, ran away with the individual title and the fastest time ever run by a girl on the famed course with 16:39.7. That feat broke the 16-year-old mark set by Julia Stamps by nearly 4 seconds.
Great Oak senior Miranda Kewley finished ninth (17:58) and teammate junior Ashley Helbig (17:58) finished 10th to reach the podium. The girls each passed two opposing runners in the last 50 meters to secure their medals.
Junior Christian Calain was 17th (18:10), junior Haley Dorris was 19th (18:12), senior Alexis Messerly was 41st (18:43), and senior Kim McNamee, nursing a cold, was 83rd (19:16), rounding out the Wolfpack scorers.
At the mile mark, coach Soles’ girls were in command and in first place with 83 points ahead of eventual third-place team Simi Valley’s 154 points.
At the two-mile mark, the Wolfpack increase their lead to 52 points, ahead of Simi’s 134 and Saint Francis’ 135.
Each time the team is in a race at Woodward Park, Soles positions himself at a point about a half-mile before the finish.
Not many spectators are in that area. He is able to gauge how his team is doing place-wise and shout encouragement for his runner’s one last push to the finish.
By virtue of their strong showing throughout the season, the girls from Great Oak will head to Saturday’s Nike Cross Nationals race in Portland, OR.
The Wolfpack is expected to finish among the top teams in the nation.
Last week, they were ranked as high as third in the nation in three recent polls and finished 13th at the 2011 Nike nationals.
Linfield Christian sophomore Jackie Crowther took part in the Division V race and finished a respectable 11th, posting a time of 19:14.