Teams that found themselves on the bubble needed a break. They would get none. The challenges moved beyond the conditions Wednesday as the boys cross country team learned they would toe the starting line without their number one runner who was out sick.
The team stepped up to the challenge and took the pace out aggressively. Starting on a steep downhill through the first half mile, the course makes a hairpin turn and climbs back to the start. The Warriors pack started strong as five runners crossed the mile in 5:25, the remaining pack in 5:36. Nedu Ndili lead a pack of Warriors that included Jeremy Dong, Cameron Lockard, Justin Baraona and Dean DeMoss. The pack continued to press the second mile as they all split two miles in 11:35 or faster. The goal to hit the team automatic qualifier was within reach with just one mile to go as the top 5 were on pace to run 17:05 or faster. But they still faced one last mile, an uphill climb that is one of the most challenging finishes in cross country.
The final mile on Crystal Springs is brutal. The legs have yet to recover from the first mile hill and the speed of mile two leaves the legs zapped. Starting with a downhill, reality sinks in as runners are immediately hit with a short steep hill that strategically is placed at the moment the race either goes your way or doesn't. The hill from bottom to top transitions from steep to a long gradual climb through the zig-zags on the backside of the course. Combined with an uphill sprint to the finish there is nothing easy about the last mile. Those who are successful here simply manage the pain better; everyone hurts.
The pace, the heat, the hills had taken its toll on the runners but the boys battled on. Despite the challenge of the last mile each of the Warriors ran faster in the last mile than the one previous. Nedu Ndili was first across the finish for the Warriors in 17:24 and was followed closely by his teammates as the scoring runners were all within 19 seconds of one another. Jeremy Dong was next in 17:32 finishing under the Individual qualifying time of 17:35. Just second later Cameron Lockard crossed the finish in 17:37, just two seconds shy of the individual qualifying mark; Justin Baraona was 4 seconds off and Dean DeMoss 9 seconds.
Heading into the meet the team knew every second would count and in the end those seconds were a tough reality. The team had battled and empty the tank. Not one runner failed to leave it out on the course that day. There is little gratification in their sixth place finish, the team’s best since joining the WCAL, or that the top five runners combined to run the second fastest team time in school history.
They tick away, some moments faster than others. They are precious to those racing the clock and yet they crawl by when agonizingly sprinting to the finish and yet slip away so quickly.
“I gave everything I had,” Dean DeMoss said after the race. “There was nothing left.”
As a coach you can ask for nothing more than an athlete to empty the tank. In the end all five scoring runners ran faster than they did here last season. All five return as the team had three sophomores and two juniors in scoring positions. While it is little comfort, the future is bright for these young men.
The boys advance two individuals: Nedu Nedili and Jeremy Dong. They will compete in the CCS Championship on November 15 at Toro Park in Salinas.
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