Sacred Heart Prep senior Natalie Novitsky patiently went through the process of becoming a pretty good cross country runner, a process that took years of establishing a foundation, sticking to her training and staying motivated.
Novitsky saw it all come to fruition Saturday when she established a personal best by over 30 seconds in winning the Central Coast Section girls Division IV title with a time of 17:42.8, the third best overall time to Lynbrook's Maryam Jawid (17:42.7) and Aptos' Marea Zlatunich (17:25.9).
"This summer has been my most consistent training," Novitsky said. "I put on a lot of miles. I've progressed from building a base to training harder every year."
Novitsky will be joined by Gunn in Division II and Menlo in Division IV, along with Palo Alto's Miranda Jimenez and Castilleja's Cosi Layton and Claire Traum.
Gunn (111 points) put together a well-conceived plan to finish second to St. Francis (50) and to turn the tables on SCVAL rival Mountain View (113). The Spartans also qualified for the state meet.
Gunn's Joyce Shea, who ran 19:22.7 and finished 14th, finished behind two Mountain View runners at the SCVAL race won by the Spartans, 41-47. On Saturday, she beat Mountain View's second runner.
The four remaining Titan scorers were bunched between 20th and 28th, while the Spartans fifth scorer placed 56th.
Freshman Sophie Alexis was a nice surprise for the Titans. She placed 21st, as Gunn's second runner, in 19:50.6. Priya Thomas (23), Natalie Hill (28) and Claire Hu (29) followed.
Menlo reached to the state finals as a team for the first time in school history, placing third overall in Division IV.
"These girls worked hard and truly made cross country a team sport instead of an individual sport," Menlo coach Jorge Chen said. "We have a great nurturing culture that encourages teamwork, encouragement, development and personal accomplishments. This was a great achievement for the program since it shows that we can be competitive as well as having a great time with your teammates. This year not only do we have a huge team but a very young one too so Menlo cross country's future looks really promising."
The Knights were led by senior Eliza Crowder, who finished seventh among 92 runners, with a time of 19:07.3 on the 2.95-mile course.
Freshman Kyra Pretre was 17th in 20:12.0 and fellow freshman Cameron Boom was close behind 20:38.3 Freshman Charlotte Tomkinson was next in 21:18.9 and junior Natalia Cordon in 21:28.6 to lift the Knights to a third-place finish. Two more freshmen boosted the Knights: Katie Aufricht was next to Cordon, finishing in 21:30.5 and Amanda Foster in 23:02.3.
Miranda, also a freshman, raced 19:36.1 to place ninth overall. She was followed by teammates Julia Doubson in 19th and freshman Kai Douglas in 36th.
Menlo-Atherton finished 10th overall, with sophomore Emma Leake placed 16th and freshman Lena Kalotihos finishing 26th.
While Novitsky, Layton and Traum are going as individuals, they will be bringing their teammates along in their hearts. All three acknowledged the importance of team.
"This is the first year being on the team that it feels like a team," Novitsky said. "In the past, people weren't as excited. This year, having them all there at the beginning of the race was a whole new feeling. It's incredible."
For Layton, it was as much about training together as it was getting emotional support.
"I had a stress fracture in April," she said. "I haven't been fully back in six months. It's a long process and my team got me through it."
Traum, the lone senior on the team, said it's been a season-long team goal that kept everybody focused.
"It's a really special team that has been talking about possibly making it to state since early in the season," she said. "We all worked so hard. Running on the team makes the sport so much more enjoyable. We've become very close."