It has been quite a season in cross country for Gunn senior Gillian Meeks, who won all three Santa Clara Valley Athletic League races before winning the SCVAL El Camino Division and Central Coast Section Division II races.
Yet, Meeks was even better on Saturday as she ran off with the Division II individual crown at the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Meeks toured the 3.1-mile (5,000 meters) course in a personal record of 17:16.0, averaging 5:33.1 per mile while winning the title by 5.3 seconds over Megan McCandless of Granada.
"I felt great today," Meeks said in an interview with FloTrack.org. "The conditions were perfect; I think I peaked just right for this race, so it's great . . . I'm so happy, so thankful and I'm just really proud that I did this today.
"My coach has just been so awesome. She cares about me so much and she prepared me really great for this race."
"Super happy for Gillian," said Gunn coach PattiSue Plumer. "She ran an outstanding race today. She had a great race plan and executed it perfectly. I just couldn't be more proud of her."
Meeks ran the fourth-fastest girls' time at the state finals, trailing only Division IV champ Cate Ratliff of Santa Cruz (17:03.7), Division IV runner-up Morgin Coonfield of McKinleyville (17:07.2) and Division I champ Destiny Collins of Great Oak (17:09.4).
"She went through the mile in 5:25 in the back of small pack; she started pushing the pace on the up hill just before the 2 mile (mark)," said Plumer. "With about 400 to go, she made a big move and dropped both girls and then held on to win by five seconds. She was very tired. "
Meeks also became only the second state champ from Gunn in cross country. Ruth Graham won the Division II state crown in 2001 while clocking 18:08. Tori Tyler finished third in 2004 in 18:09. Meeks ran the same time as former Gunn standout Sarah Robinson in 2013, when Robinson finished fourth. No Gunn girl has run faster in the state finals.
Meeks, who was ninth last year in Division I, previously ran 17:44 on this same course at the Clovis Invitational this season. Her other two 5K races were 17:47 at Sunnyvale Baylands and 17:54 at the Stanford Invitational. Her previous fastest time this season was 17:17 over 2.95 miles at Crystal Springs.
The 17:16 at the state meet converts to a 16:55 time at Crystal, which would rank Meeks among the all-time on the hilly Belmont course.
"In terms of Woodward versus Crystal . . . I think the courses are hard to compare and she never really had any competition at Crystal this year," said Plumer. "Also, this year conditions were not good at Crystal and they were really good today at Fresno. But, no matter how you look at it, it was a stellar performance."
Meeks next will run at the Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 5 at Glendoveer Course in Portland, Ore. She's one of five girls and five boys from the CIF state championships to be invited.
"She is super excited," Plumer said.
Meeks, meanwhile, was among a handful of local individuals and teams competing in Fresno.
The next-best individual performance was by Menlo School sophomore Robert Miranda, who finished ninth in the boys' Division IV race in 15:40.2. The time was a personal best for Miranda at 5K by 32 seconds, established a school record and left him as the No. 3 runner from the CCS in all divisions behind Justin Robison of Lynbrook (15:06.4, second in Division II) and Roman Munoz of King City (15:36.8, sixth in Division IV).
"Extremely happy with Rob's race," said Menlo coach Jorge Chen. "He ran very smart and was only four seconds behind the CCS champ."
Last season, as a freshman, Miranda finished 27th in 16:12. In 1997, Menlo School's Martin Keck took 10th in the Division V race.
On Saturday, Miranda engineered his race like a veteran though he didn't expect he would be among the top 10 at the first mile then again at mile 2.
"That wasn't quite the plan," Miranda said, "But this year, I went out a lot more relaxed -- last year was bit overwhelming -- I felt today I could relax and had good control."
It was Chen who helped Miranda set the tone for the grand stage.
'Jorge is a great coach and he said to me, 'Here's what the race is going to be like, and here's what to expect.'
"We have been altering pieces of my running throughout the season, and trying to do better each race, so I knew what I had to do, and if I gave everything I had, I would have a good one."
And he's hoping for another one as he heads to the Foot Locker Western Regionals on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.
Priory senior Hana Marsheck had the next-best local finish as she ran home 23rd in the girls' Division V race in 19:33.8. The Priory girls were 17th in the team standings.
Eastside Prep freshman Zion Gabriel was 30th in the same race while clocking 19:46.0. In the boys' Division V race, Priory senior Robert Screven was 33rd in 16:35.3.
Menlo-Atherton senior Annalisa Crowe was 38th in the girls' Division I race while clocking 18:37.2. She was the third-fastest CCS runner, the same position she finished at the section finals.
Sacred Heart Prep senior Natalie Novitsky was 40th in the girls' Division IV race in 19:22.5. Gunn's Illi Gardner was well back in the Division II race, but still clocked 19:46 for the 16th-fastest time in Gunn history on the course.
The only other local team entered was Palo Alto in the boys' Division I race. The Vikings had junior Kent Slaney leading the way, but Slaney managed just a 63rd-place finish in 16:08 while running on a sore knee. He was the seventh-fastest CCS runner in the race after winning the section title two weeks ago.
The Paly boys finished 15th in the team race. The Vikings were 18th going through the first mile, and jumped all the way 14th at 2 miles and then the final of 15th place.
"It was great to see the boys truly leave everything they had all the way through the finish line," said Paly coach Kelsey Feeley.