Stanford Offers First Test for Harriers

Nick Johnson, staff writer

The varsity boys’ and girls’ cross country squads traveled to Palo Alto on Saturday, September 27, to compete in the annual  Stanford Invitational, hosted by Palo Alto High School. The meet, which features top teams from across the western United States, took place on the Stanford University golf course.

Sophomore Jared Yabu finished the 5 kilometer course in 16:08, placing 19th in the division 3 race to lead his team. Senior Kevin Buckley placed 23rd as the team’s 2nd scorer. The boys finished 5th in the team standings, with 193 points, behind Paso Robles, University City, Placer and section rival Bishop O’ Dowd.

The highly touted girls finished 3rd in the seeded division, with strong performances by seniors Brighie Leach and first time runner Toni Finnane. While most of the races at Stanford are rated by school size, the seeded race puts the top teams head to head, regardless of size.  Division 1 Davis Senior and Division 2 Bella Vista, both top 10 state ranked teams scored 103 points.  The Cougars were just 6 points behind the larger powerhouse programs, earning the best team time for all division 3 schools.

Leach made her season debut at the meet, having taken the previous two weeks to make official college visits to Harvard and Princeton.  With Leach, as well as Mary Orders, Rachel Johnson and Robin Powell in the lineup, the girls team put their best lineup on the starting line for the first time this season.

The boys’ team was hindered by illnesses to two key contributors, juniors Nathaniel Sauerberg and Jonathan Semenza. Sauerberg finished 5th for the team in spite of running a fever. “I’ve known people from other teams who have not always finished races and that’s something that my team has looked down on. We’re a team that races for each other and that’s something I use to motivate me,” he said.

Head coach Chuck Woolridge explained that the meet was the first big test for the 2014 season. “It was the first time that our entire girls varsity team competed, and they faced some of the state’s very best programs,” he said.

Leach, who ran 17:46 for the 5 kilometer course, praised her teammates’ performances. “I think that everyone had a great race,” she said. “We showed how hard we’ve been working over the past summer and beginning of the season.”  Leach led last year’s team to the division 3 state team title.

The Stanford University golf course provides unique terrain, according to Woolridge. “The course is a little less technical than others we’ve run on. There weren’t any significant hills,” he said.

Woolridge noted the gap between his two front runners and his other scorers. “I think that closing up the gap between our number two runner and our number 3, 4, and 5 runners will be the focus of our next 5 weeks,” he said.

Leach enjoyed the challenge of facing top competition. “It was important for us because we want to do well at  state, and this is a good dress rehearsal for that race,” she said.

Last year’s boys’ squad was 4th at the state meet while the girls won over Souther Section rivals Northwood and Palos Verde.

The next big meet for the Cougars will be the Roughrider Invitational on October 17.