Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Varsity Girls Cross Country Season Preview

Morgan Lira at last year's WCAL Championship
After four straight team appearances in the California State Championship from 2006-2009 and earning individual qualifying spots in 2010, expectations are high for the Warriors. And rightfully so. The girls return 7 of their top 10 runners from last season and following their 6th place team finish a year ago they are eager to prove they are once again a top 3 team.

Struck by the flu and injury bug at the end of last season the Warriors finished 6th place at the CCS Championship and with a loaded division this year they will have their work cut out for them again in 2011. Valley Christian enters the season ranked 5th in Division 3 in the Cross Country Express CCS pre-season rankings but after 4 straight team appearances in the State Championship they are more determined than ever to get back to the tradition of spending the weekend after thanksgiving in Fresno.

At a recent meeting where the team set their goals for the season it was unanimous, “Go to State!”

“We have strong leadership and the team has responded very well,” Coach Small said. “The work ethic and drive to push each other is evident every day at practice. Now the challenge will be to build on that and carry that drive into the Championship races this November.”

Senior leadership is key to any successful program and fulfilling that role this season is Morgan Lira and Isabel Garcia.

Last season Lira became only the second runner in school history to win the individual WCAL Championship running the 2.95 mile course at Crystal Springs in 18:21. She followed that up with a tremendous spring running personal bests in every event she ran including 5:09 for 1600 meters and 11:05 for 3200 meters.

Finishing the season as the Warriors #3 runner last season was Isabel Garcia. Garcia has been one of the top 800 meter runners in the CCS since her freshman year and is a two time State Qualifier and CCS Champion as a member of the 4 x 400 meter relay. She has also been a top cross country runner for the Warriors as well running a personal best 19:38 at Woodward Park in the 2009 State Championship. Despite missing much of the 2010 season with a hamstring injury she finished strong running low 21 minutes at Toro Park. After taking time to heal her hamstring she has worked hard the last month and has shown glimpses of her peek form. Often hitting the pool in the morning and doing a full workout in the afternoon she is poised to challenge for the Warriors top spot.

Kellianne Connolly at the 2010 Early Bird Invitational
In the early going the strength of this year’s team is the proximity of the 3 through 8 runners and Kellianne Connolly is leading the charge. She started the 2010 season on fire running 21:03 for the Toro Park course, currently the 9th fast mark of all-time for the Warriors. Connolly broke through at the end of her freshman year at the 2009 State Championships where she ran 21:26 for the Woodward Park course and looks to have another breakthrough this season. Connolly will be depended on heavily this season.

Joining her is sophomore Jessica Xu. Xu set the pace for an outstanding freshman class in 2010 finishing as one of the top 5 runners last season. One of her best races of the year came at the WCAL meet at Golden Gate Park where she ran 21:14 for the 3.03 mile course. She carried that momentum into the spring where she ran 2:32 for 800 meters as a member of the school record setting 4 x 800 meter relay team. She also ran 5:40 for 1600 meters and 12:44 for 3200 meters. A dedicated, hard working talent, Jessica will be key to the Warriors success this season.

Karen Mac also had a spectacular freshman season and brings amazing depth to this year's squad. She led the Varsity team at the second WCAL meet in 2010 running 21:54 for the 3 mile course at Shoreline. This spring she ran 2:35 for 800 meters and 6:00 for 1600 meters. She is a focused and determined runner who has come into the season challenging the top runners on the team.

Also expected to challenge for a top 7 spot is Shannon Luu and Megan Gillespie. Working hard this summer they have stepped up this fall and are already showing improvement over where they were a year ago. Also in the mix is newcomer Ashley Lara. Lara is a talented freshman who finished 2nd in the Junior High Cross Country meet last year and was County Champion at 800 meters.

The Warriors open their season this Saturday at their annual Watermelon Run on the UCSC campus.

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