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Local cross country programs running at full strength

 
Palo Alto's Ella Ball holds an early lead over Menlo's Charlotte Tomkinson at Saturday's Lowell Invitational. Menlo's Kyra Pretre isn't far behind. Photo by John Hale.

A glance at the results from last Saturday’s Lowell Invitational, the first major cross country invitational of the season, gives an indication of just how strong the local mid-Peninsula area is in the sport.

Menlo School, the defending Central Coast Section girls Division IV champion, should be even stronger this year with its top two runners back. The Knights won their girls varsity race at Lowell with ease with Charlotte Tomkinson placing second and Kyra Pretre sixth.

With Henry Saul having graduated, it appeared as though an exceptionally strong period of boys distance running at Palo Alto might have come to an end. Saul, Kent Slaney, Reed Foster and Sam Craig had all moved on to college.

But the results at Lowell show that Paly has reloaded with an unusually deep collection of young runners, taking first place as a team in three underclass races: freshman boys, sophomore boys and frosh-soph girls.

“We have a lot of young guns and they’re hungry to do well,’’ Palo Alto coach Michael Davidson said. “They know each other, push each other and run with each other. I’m looking forward to some good stuff.’’

Speaking of young runners, Menlo freshman Justin Pretre, younger brother of Kyra, won his race at Lowell. Tomkinson, a state meet finalist the last two years in the 800 meters, finished second in her race behind a freshman from Los Altos.

Virtually every school in the Palo Alto Weekly coverage area (Palo Alto, Gunn, Menlo School, Menlo-Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep, Woodside, Castilleja, etc.) has a strong cross country program. The area’s location in proximity to the foothills is certainly a factor as is the area’s affluence. Many of the region’s top runners were able to begin serious running at an early age. But the primary reason for the wealth of talent is most of all the product of what could be termed a cultural sensibility.

“This culture is very outdoors oriented,’’ Davidson said. “Hiking, biking, backpacking, skiing …”

A confluence of factors that makes for an abundance of good young distance runners.

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