By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Priory junior Kat Gregory and Menlo School senior Sam Parker ran away with individual titles while the Sacred Heart Prep girls and Menlo boys captured team crowns to highlight the West Bay Athletic League cross-country championships on Friday at Crystal Springs in Belmont.
For Gregory, Parker and the Sacred Heart Prep girls, the league titles were their first. The Menlo boys won for the second straight year.
Their reward were berths in next Saturday's Central Coast Section Championships at Toro Park in Salinas. The top runners from there will advance to the CIF State Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
On an ideal day for running (cool, breezy weather), nearly everyone qualified for CCS. The Sacred Heart Prep boys and girls, Menlo boys and girls and both Priory teams all advanced to next week's section meet along with three Pinewood boys. Only two Pinewood boys and three girls failed to move on among local runners.
For Gregory and Parker, both improved upon last season's WBAL finishes with dominating performances.
Gregory was second last season in 19:06. She won on Friday in 18:52, beating Castilleja senior Rachel Skokowski by 16 seconds. Parker was third last season in 16:45. He won with a 16:05 time over the rolling 2.95-mile layout (just missing his PR of 16:03) while beating freshman teammate Matt Myers (16:26) by 21 seconds.
"Last year I lost to a senior," Gregory said, "so I'm honored to assume the mantle (of champion)."
Gregory came in as the heavy favorite, having won three times in league-wide meets prior to Friday.
"It's sort of an uncomfortable position for me," Gregory said of the favorite's role. "I'd rather be the underdog. But, today it was more about us doing well (as a team). I had to push myself. I don't think we were looking to win the team title, it was more just to move on."
Gregory actually missed two weeks of training to prevent a possible stress fracture, returning just this week.
"I had two days of practice and then the meet," she said. "My coaches had confidence in me, that I'd be able to pull through. So, I'm happy to be here."
While Gregory's effort wasn't enough to help her team win, Parker's performance was. Of course, it helps when your teammates finish second, ninth, 10th and 17th as Myers, senior Lowry Yankwich (17:28), sophomore Andrew Schmitt (17:31) and sophomore Michael Machlin (17:51) did, respectively, while scoring 39 points.
"Just awesome," said Menlo coach Donoson FitzGerald. "It's a great group of guys, really self-motivated. This is what they had their eyes on. Last year was kind of a surprise (winning)."
Menlo was the heavy favorite after winning the three WBAL meets leading to the finals.
"They're talented, but they've worked hard," said FitzGerald, who returned four runners from last season and picked up freshman Myers, who quickly became the team's No. 2 runner.
"This was more so for the team," Parker said of his first title. "We've been focusing on this and weren't going to settle for anything less. This is a great confidence boost for CCS. Hopefully we can take this momentum and ride it into next week."
The Sacred Heart Prep girls are probably hoping for the same thing after making a miraculous improvement for coaches Marisa Beck and Ken Wilner in just one year. The SHP girls finished ninth in the 2009 finals.
"Were we really ninth," Beck asked, looking at the previous year's results. "We didn't have a single girl in the top 32. Our first runner was 33rd.
So, what made for the improvement?
"Lots of running," Beck said. "Our summer program has become stronger and the runners are more dedicated."
The Gators scored 52 points to hold off runnerup Menlo (63), winning their first-ever WBAL team crown and their first of any kind since 2000. Freshman Meghan Holland led the Gators with a sixth-place finish of 19:51. Sophomore Kathryn Leahy was ninth (20:50), senior Elly Jones 10th (20:52), sophomore Courtney Schrier was 13th (20:57) and senior Riley Perdue 14th (20:58).
Beck, in her sixth season, recalled how demoralizing it was when her team competed in the West Catholic Athletic League.
"It was torture to take them to those meets," said Beck, whose first season saw a SHP team that featured three girls and five boys. Thus, winning has never been a high expectation. "It never crossed my mind that it could ever be this.
"Never on our team have we stressed winning," Beck added. "The first league meet this season we were shocked. We could not believe we won the first league meet. The second league meet I had to pull up some JV runners (and SHP still won). Today, we were hoping we were going to win, but we didn't stress winning."
Beck said all but two runners from last season returned, along with the talented freshman Holland. All the girls PR'd during the season in every meet, some by as many as 2-3 minutes." Now, the SHP are headed to CCS Division IV for the first time ever.
The Sacred Heart Prep boys, meanwhile, finished third with 63 points to also advance.
Junior Zach Kaplan led the way in fourth in 16:51 while junior Kyle Burbach was 11th (17:33), junior Bill White was 14th (17:46), senior Andrew Hosking was 16t (17:50) and senior Zach Watterson was 18th (18:00).
Priory senior Arnaud Kpachavi led his team with a sixth-place finish of 17:09.
The Menlo girls, meanwhile, were led by freshman Maddy Price, who finished third in 19:32 as the fastest freshman on the day. Junior Maddie Taylor was 11th (20:52) and her twin, Annie, was 15th (21:03). Brianna Quincy led the Pinewood girls with a 23rd-place finish of 22:00.