This year's Central Coast Section cross country finals Saturday at Crystal Springs should be highly competitive.
The Palo Alto boys team appears to be coming on strong late in the season, turning in the fastest time among all Santa Clara Valley Athletic League teams at the El Camino Division finals last week with a team time of 1:20:53. The Vikings will have to be as fast or faster to qualify for the state meet, because the CCS Division I field is loaded with top teams.
In the latest CCS cross country rankings, issued Oct. 31, Palo Alto is ranked 10th overall in the CCS, sixth among Division I teams behind Bellarmine, Los Altos, Carlmont, Santa Teresa and Evergreen Valley. Nine Division I schools are ranked in the boys top 15 with Alisal, Menlo-Atherton and Homestead ranked 11-13, right after Palo Alto.
But in a comparison of times recorded last week at league finals (all leagues San Jose and north run their league finals at the same location, at Crystal Springs) Paly had the third-fastest time overall, behind only St. Francis (a Division II team) and Bellarmine of the West Catholic Athletic League.
"Bellarmine is definitely the team to beat,'' Palo Alto coach Michael Davidson said. "They're the top dog. Our boys are running right where they need to be. I'm hoping they repeat with a good performance this weekend.''
Los Altos had the second-fastest time at the SCVAL finals, running 1:21:41, and did so without top runner Owen MacKenzie at full strength. Carlmont, in turning in the top time at the Peninsula Athletic League finals, had a team time of 1:20.92. So it's looking like an extremely competitive race.
Sacred Heart Prep has a shot to advance to state in boys Division IV with Scotts Valley, King City and San Lorenzo Valley the primary competition.
On the girls side, Division I is getting only two teams qualifying for the state meet this year. Palo Alto turned in the fastest time among El Camino Division teams at 1:38:22. But Monta Vista, Los Gatos and Homestead from the De Anza Division (all Division I teams) all ran a little faster. So did Carlmont, the top-ranked team in the CCS, at the PAL finals.
Woodside has a good chance of advancing to state in Division II. The Wildcats, with four freshmen among their top five runners, are ranked seventh in CCS, second among Division II schools, behind St. Francis and just ahead of Aragon. And they placed second at the PAL finals behind Carlmont with a time of 1:39:94.
"If they run like they've run all year they'll go to state,'' Woodside coach Al Hernandez said.
But Presentation, No. 11 in the last CCS rankings, beat St. Francis at the WCAL finals with a time of 1:39:33, also thrusting themselves into the conversation about who goes to state from girls Division II.
Menlo School, ranked fourth in the CCS, is a heavy favorite in Division IV, and Castilleja, ranked ninth, an odds-on favorite in Division V.
"We want to win the first CCS title in school history on the girls side,'' Menlo coach Jorge Chen said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're in the top two in CCS. Our goal at state is to finish in the top five in Division IV.''
The Division IV girls field at CCS lacks the depth the Division IV boys possess. The Sacred Heart Prep girls have an excellent chance to advance to state as a second- or third-place finisher behind Menlo, along with San Lorenzo Valley.
Castilleja finished second behind Nueva in Division V last year and the team has set the goal of winning a CCS title this season. The team is also looking to improve on last year's 10th-place finish at state.
Top runner Tevah Gevelber is the defending CCS Division V individual champion.