When all 10 races had been run and 29 local cross-country runners had earned trips to the CIF State Meet with their team or as individuals, Gunn coach Ernie Lee probably had to thank his lucky stars -- and depth -- for keeping some impressive streaks alive.
The most important streak that continued was Gunn's string of consecutive appearances by the girls in the state meet. That streak improved to five after the Titans finished second to Carlmont in Division I at the Central Coast Section Championships on Saturday at Toro Park in Salinas.
Carlmont came in as the No. 1-ranked Division team while Gunn was the defending champion. Lee, however, knew the Scots were favored and would be happy to be one of the two teams to advance. Lee got his wish, but it didn't quite happen the way he figured.
Junior Kieran Gallagher and senior Emma Dohner, two of Gunn's top five runners, were not able to finish the race on the 3.0-mile layout. That immediately put pressure on the Titans' normal No. 6 and 7 runners, senior Rachel Bent and sophomore Torey Butner, who now had to be No. 4 and 5. Both responded to the challenge, as did the rest of the finishers.
"All five girls who finished ran their lifetime bests," said Lee, "so that was good. Unfortunately, both Kieran and Emma dropped out and that pretty much eliminated any chance for us to win."
Carlmont won the team crown with 61 points while Gunn tallied 100 points for second. When the Titans won last season's CCS title, they scored 39 points.
Sisters Erin and Sarah Robinson chased Carlmont senior Jessie Petersen (18:23) to the finish line with Erin, a senior, taking second in 18:41 and Sarah, a freshman, finishing third in 18:50. That 2-3 finish was not totally unexpected by Lee.
"Sarah Robinson has been running very strongly, so her finish wasn't too much of a surprise," Lee said. Erin, meanwhile, finished second to Petersen for the second straight season. It marked the 15th straight year that at least one Gunn girl has placed in the top five at CCS.
Gunn junior Melia Dunbar, normally the team's No. 5 runner, ran a PR of 20:25 to get 23rd. Bent finished 32nd in 20:49 while Butner, the only other Gunn runner on the course, was 48th in 21:22.
Palo Alto finished a strong third with 127 points, led by seniors Susan Heinselman (11th in 19:37) and Gracie Cain (18th in 20:13). Sophomore Chika Kasahara (20:43) ran 28th, senior Leigh Dairaghi (21:12) was 39th and sophomore Nora Rosati (21:12) was 40th as Paly put its first five runners ahead of Gunn's Butner. Gunn's strength at the top plus the big come-through efforts by Dunbar, Bent and Butner made the difference.
Palo Alto's finish, however, was not enough to get the Vikings to the state meet as only the top two advanced. Also missing out were the Menlo School, Menlo-Atherton and Sacred Heart Prep boys in addition to the SHP girls.
Joining the Gunn girls at the state finals at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 27 will be Castilleja and the Priory boys and girls, all of whom qualified in Division V.
Priory junior Kat Gregory not only defended her individual Division V title in 19:13, but she helped the Panthers finish third overall with 70 points. Priory has reached the state meet in all three of Gregory's seasons.
Running second for the second straight season was Castilleja senior Rachel Skokowski, who clocked 19:46 to help the Gators take second with 61 points. In her four years at CCS, Skokowski has finished sixth as a freshman, first as a sophomore followed by two seconds. Gregory, meanwhile, has yet to finish lower than third (her freshman year).
Joining Gregory at the state meet will be Devon Errington, Alwyn Lansing, Morgan Mather, Emily Moreton and Maddie Pierson. The Priory boys, who took third, will send Leo Berez, Dylan Croll, Joe Farned, Griffin Koontz, Arnaud Kpachavi, Robert Perez and Burt Sadler. Kpachavi had the best finish, running third in 17:33.
Joining Skokowski at the state meet will be Castilleja teammates Fiona McCarthy-McCrystle (fourth in 20:26), Camila McHugh (ninth in 21:20), Julie McGee, Ayesha Bajwa and Monica Taneja.
Also qualifying to the State Meet, as individuals, were senior Sam Parker and freshman Maddy Price of Menlo School and Gunn junior Andrew Prior. Parker was seventh in Division IV in 16:39, Price was fifth in the girls' D-5 race in 19:37 and Prior was 10th in the Division I boys' race in 16:17.
"The boys ran well," Lee said, "especially Andrew Prior in snagging the last individual spot for the State Meet. Rory (Runser), unfortunately, suffered a foot injury last week and was not in top form. But, team-wise, we did about as expected (sixth)."
Lee noted that four of his boys improved by over a minute from last year (and two by over two minutes).
The Menlo-Atherton boys, meanwhile, suffered the same fate as the Palo Alto girls by taking third in the Division I race. Bellarmine (30) and Carlmont (95) got the State Meet berths with the Bears close behind with 101 points. M-A had five in the top 30, with junior Michael Hester leading the way in 14th (16:32) and junior Jack Beckwith taking 16th (16:34). Sophomore George Baier was 22nd, senior Spencer Berry 26th and sophomore John Lovegren 30th.
The Sacred Heart Prep boys were seventh in Division IV (one spot behind Menlo) with junior Zach Kaplan leading the Gators in 16:56 for 14th. Menlo freshman Matt Myers was 19th in 17:03.
The Sacred Heart Prep girls missed a State Meet berth by one spot, taking fourth with 129 points in Division IV. The Menlo girls were sixth. SHP freshman Meghan Holland led the Gators in ninth place (20:03).