The CIF State Cross County Championships is regarded as one of the most competitive in the country. Menlo School senior Lizzie Lacy, Pinewood senior Nicole Colonna and Gunn junior Gillian Meeks probably would agree following their efforts on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.
All three won Central Coast Section titles two weeks ago, but had to settle for less in the state finals.
Lacy, who came into the girls' Division IV race over the 3.1-mile layout as one of the favorites, held the lead after the first mile before being overtaken and settled for third place in 18:00, her fastest ever at the state meet.
"Overall, it was such a good ending to a very unexpected season for me," Lacy said. "I didn't run as strategically as I would have liked, but it was one of the best ways it could have ended."
Lacy, who was sixth last year in 18:31, held a narrow lead over favored Caroline Pietrzyk of Malibu after one mile before Pietrzyk and Morgin Coonfield of McKinleyville both passed Lacy at the two-mile mark. Pietrzyk won in 17:35 with Coonfield second in 17:51.
"Very proud of her," said Menlo coach Jorge Chen. "Both of us knew after the race that she went out too fast on the first mile (5:19). She even apologized to me, but I told her no worries. She's a champ and represented Menlo well. At state, when you're one of the top runners, it's a completely different ball game . . . I'm very proud of Lizzie and am excited to see her continue to grow as a runner in the future. Lizzie is one of those kids who just plain loves to run, race and have fun doing it."
While Lacy was third in her race, she was 16th overall among all five divisions. The Central Coast Section champ also was the first CCS finisher Saturday, leading Cate Ratliff of Santa Cruz (18:23) and Niki Iyer of Harker (18:26) to the finish line.
Lacy started the season taking second at the prestigious Stanford Invitational. She had the second fastest mark all-time for a WBAL meet at Baylands and then the second fastest all-time at Toro Park after winning CCS. Last year, she ran Stanford in 19:01; this year in 17:58.
"I'm so happy that (the state meet time) ended up being a PR (for the state meet)," Lacy said. "I didn't expect to be coming out and being third or second or first in every race. Last year, I didn't really know what I could do, and this year after Stanford, it gave me the confidence. The motivation was always there."
Lacy will put soccer on hold for a week and continue her running season this Saturday at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships West Regional at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Once again she'll face Pietrzyk, with a chance to beat the state meet champ.
In the girls' Division V finals, Pinewood's Colonna raced to a sixth-place finish in 18:57. She finished eighth a year ago in 19:17 but improved upon her return after winning the section title this season in 18:58.
Meeks, meanwhile, competed in the most competitive race -- Division I girls -- where winner Fiona O'Keeffe of Davis produced the day's fastest overall time of 16:57.
Meeks, who was the CCS champion in 17:59 over three miles, was ninth in the state finals race in 18:10. Among those she trailed was Homestead freshman Elena Karmas in 18:00.
Meeks finished 46th last year in 18:37, but has made great strides this season as she and Lacy proved to be the most consistent and successful runners in the CCS this season. Meeks' time ranked her 27th in all divisions on Saturday.
Among the other top local finishers on Saturday included Pinewood sophomore Helena Merk and Sacred Heart Prep senior Daniel Hill.
Merk was ninth in the girls' Division V race in 19:12 while running as an individual -- as did Lacy, Colonna and Meeks.
Hill was 16th in the Division IV race in 16:01 and was the No. 3 CCS finisher. The Gators, who had qualified as a team, finished 13th. King City and Scotts Valley, which finished ahead of SHP in the CCS finals, took second and third, respectively, on Saturday.
Menlo School freshman Robert Miranda was 27th in boys' Division IV in 16:12. He was the top freshman finisher in the race and the fifth-fastest frosh overall. Trailing Miranda was SHP seniors Garrett Mack (78th in 16:54) and August Howell (83rd in 16:58)
"It was just a lot bigger than I expected," Miranda said of the state meet. "At CCS, I was running about 11th. I spent a lot of the race with about 1-2 guys in front of me. Here, the entire time I was just trying to keep up behind the pack, and had 5-6 guys in my view the whole time."
The Priory girls were 19th out of 24 teams in Division V with junior Hana Marsheck leading the way in 20:23 for 42nd.
The Palo Alto boys were 22nd in Division I with senior Lucas Matison clocking 16:05 for 53rd.
Elsewhere, Gunn senior Emily Aiken was 36th in the girls' Division I race; Priory senior Ross Corey was 75th in Division V in 17:26 and junior teammate Robert Screven was 81st in 17:31.