Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - October 28, 2011

Gallagher's return gives Gunn girls chance to challenge

Good efforts should keep Titans among the leaders for the SCVAL El Camino Division and CCS finals

by Keith Peters

In a normal season, Gunn senior Kieran Gallagher would have run at least four cross-country races by now. This, however, is not one of those seasons.

Gallagher is not only chasing teammate Sarah Robinson and others, but she's chasing her own fitness while racing herself back into shape after suffering a stress fracture in her foot during the summer.

After just two races, Gallagher seems to be winning the race.

In fact, that's just what she did on Tuesday as she toured the 2.18-mile course at Bol Park on the Gunn campus to win individual honors and help the Titans to a close 32-34 victory over rival Palo Alto in the annual Palo Alto City Championships. Castilleja was third with 64 points.

In the junior-senior boys' race, Gunn senior Andrew Prior led a one-two finish by the Titans, who placed their top five runners among the first six finishers to win going away over Palo Alto, 18-35.

Gunn's highlight for the day, however, had to be Gallagher's effort of 12:44, which was just five seconds off her personal record (12:39) for the course.

"We were just hoping that she could run 13-flat," said Gunn assistant Ernie Lee. "The 12:44 today is great for only her second race."

Gallagher's victory also was important because Paly freshman Katie Foug took second in 13:09 and junior teammate Chika Kasahara was third in 13:21 to put pressure on the Titans, who were missing Robinson.

The talented sophomore, who had won all three of her races this season, has been in Carson this week while training with the U.S. National U-15 girls' soccer team. Had Robinson run Tuesday, the outcome would not have been as close.

But, Robinson was not present and other Gunn runners had to fill in. Melia Dunbar (13:29), Christine Prior (13:34) and Torey Butner (14:03) finished fifth, sixth and ninth, respectively, but it still wasn't clinched until Ellie Ribbe finished 11th in 14:15 to edge Paly's Nora Rosati (14:16). It was that close.

Palo Alto's Audrey DeBruin was seventh in 13:36 and Rachelle Holmgren took 10th in 14:08.

Perhaps preventing Paly from upsetting Gunn was a pair of Castilleja runners,

Castilleja's Julia Wood (fourth in 13:25) and Fiona Maloney-McCrystle (eighth in 13:49), who broke up the points.

The day, however, belonged to Gallagher, who made her season debut only last week. She finished seventh in a race at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, trailing both Foug and Kasahara of Paly while Robinson won the race in a course record.

"I've been cleared to run for six weeks," said Gallagher, "but we've been playing it really safe. Obviously, my season wasn't able to progress like I wanted it to, but I'm very happy (with her winning time)."

Gallagher believes she suffered the stress fracture during the summer when she was in Germany on an exchange program.

"I probably ran too many miles too quickly and maybe ran too much," Gallagher said. "I wasn't keeping track of how many miles I was running and ended up running more miles than I had expected . . . I wasn't thinking about running."

Gallagher, who was in Germany primarily for the immersion experience, was just having fun with her running instead of actually training. Still, it proved too much.

While she was sidelined in the early fall before finally being cleared to run six weeks ago, Gallagher learned something about herself and running.

"To be injured and not being able to run actually might have helped," said Gallagher, who agreed that it was almost like a fresh start.

"It's awesome to have that," she said. "I actually looked forward to a workout last week. It was good to get back into racing."

Is it more fun to run now?

"I think so," she said. "I definitely appreciate it more, because I hadn't been able to do it."

Despite having only two races in the tank, Gallagher seems fueled for Tuesday's SCVAL El Camino Division Championships at Crystal Springs in Belmont, site of this season's Central Coast Section Championships on Nov. 12.

"I'm definitely excited for next week," Gallagher said. "We're not too worried about where we place; we just want to keep qualifying.

Gallagher said it took time not only for her to return, but to incorporate a young group of new runners. Now, she says, "A lot of the pieces are falling into place."

Mountain View is still the favorite for the girls' title next week, but Gunn coach Matt Tompkins said "if we run great and they have an average day, we can win."

Robinson is expected to return from the national soccer camp this weekend and Tompkins is keeping his fingers crossed that she'll be as healthy as when she left. With Gallagher returning to form, that gives the Titans a solid one-two punch.

"That was a real confidence-builder for her," Tompkins said of Gallagher's race on Tuesday, "especially when you come off an injury like that. It kind of worked out that Sarah wasn't here, so Kieran could get that confidence."

The Gunn boys also got some confidence from Tuesday's victory and also should challenge for the division title next Tuesday.

"We have a chance to do pretty well," Tompkins said. "If we have a great race, we could win."

Tompkins said Wilcox and Los Altos are the likely favorites, but a lot can happen — much like in the City Championships. Gunn senior Andrew Prior won, as expected, in 10:44. The time ranks him No. 7 all-time on the course. Senior teammate Peter Chen pulled off a surprise with his second-place finish of 10:58 as the Titans scored a near-perfect 18 points while Paly finished with 35.

Palo Alto's Nikolai Solgaard was third in 11:11, but the next three finishers all wore Gunn red as seniors Daniel Krigel (11:16), Rishi Agarwal (11:23) and Michael Underwood (11:24) finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Gunn will take a lineup of five seniors into the league meet after finishing second last season, to Los Altos, with 56 points. Paly was fifth. Prior was fifth last season with Chen 10th and Solgaard 14th.

For the girls, Gunn was second with 52 points while trailing only Mountain View (41 points). Palo Alto was third with 78. Sarah Robinson finished third, Paly's Kasahara was 11th, Gallagher finished 14th and Dunbar took 15th.

There's certainly room for all to improve.

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