Fresno, CA - Standing on the starting line of the 2014 California Cross Country State Championships the Valley Christian girls are one of the twenty-three fastest teams in the state. Little separate the teams, all have worked hard, all come into the race with high aspirations. To get here not only takes talent but dedication and commitment. Dreaming of competing in the state meet is nothing new to these cross country runners. The desire to compete here is the driving force behind those early morning summer runs and what get you through the most difficult of workouts. For them this is what the training was for.
The Valley Christian Warriors have been represented here for 14 straight years, either by team or individual. This year is the later. Seven girls make their way to the starting line with different levels of confidence. For more than half the team this is their first year of cross country, let alone a race of this magnitude. Nicole Favre and Vanessa Giacalone return to the state meet as veterans having run here on last year's team, one of the fastest in school history. For Ashley Lara this is her fourth state championship.
It has been quite the journey for Lara. From a nervous freshman trying to conquer the butterflies to a senior now ushering in the younger runners experiencing the same nerves. Not that they go away, today they are just contained. This season has also had its share of ups and downs. After coming into the season with a solid summer of training she suffered an injury that was followed with a bout of the flu, resulting in missing early season meets. As the gun sounds none of that matters now; all that matters is today. Lara starts strong the first mile and moves with the pack leading the team with a 6:07. Nicole Favre and Vanessa Giacalone follow: Favre passes the mile in 6:19, Giacalone in 6:23.
Freshman Camille Reed wasn't even sure if could run today. She spent the last three weeks in the pool after agitating her IT band the week of CCS. The warm-up was not kind to her but she was all-in and determined to give it her all, whatever that meant on the day. It was a painful first mile but she went through in 6:32 leading the contingent of Brianna Becerra, Sophia Patterson and Lauren Cicisly. Heading into the race the strategy was to key off teammates. It was important to not get caught up with the excitement of the first mile but to stick to the race plan that would be most beneficial. The remaining pack ran disciplined coming through together in 6:46.
In the end it was a solid showing for the Warriors: Ashley Lara led the way with a 20:14 clocking, her best ever for this meet. Nicole Favre was next, smashing her personal best and finishing 90 seconds faster than she did earlier in the year with her 20:45. Vanessa Giacalone also improved upon her best set here last year running 22:09. Six of seven girls ran a personal best at the end of the day.
"I didn't feel that good in the race but told myself I was going to give it my all and really push the last 800," Lara said. "I think I passed about 30 people the last 800."
Her push to the finish was impressive and resulted in her fastest state performance. She led the team to a 22nd place finish despite missing many key varsity runners in the line up.
"I love the power and unity of our team," Sophia Patterson said. "The fact that I get to run with the most dedicated, light-hearted and humorous people I know is an absolute blessing. We have bonded so well, and we always work together to survive the most gruesome workouts."
Perhaps it is the "survival" instinct that got them through the tough days but it their love for one another that bonded them together.
"We all know the joys and pain of running and help each other to improve." Camille Reed said. "Everyone is so kind; runners are just cool people. We laugh together, we celebrate together when we place well or someone has a great race, we share each other's pain when someone is injured or has a bad race. My team is probably the main reason I've improved so much this season; they make me look forward to running everyday."
The Warriors return 9 of their top 10 runners next season: Kailey Eddy, Nicole Favre, Camille Reed, Kiko Li, Vanessa Giacalone, Brianna Becerra, Sophia Paterson, Lauren Cicisly and Hannah Theaker.
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