If there’s one word you’ll hear Foothill Cross Country runners say more than anything else, its “team.” Though often thought of as one of the most individually focused sports, time spent at a cross country meet can easily shatter that misconception.
The truth is, cross country runners at Foothill do, as Blythe Blakeman ‘19 put it, “almost everything together,” but it all leads to those important 3.1 miles at the meet. In Wednesday’s home meet at Camino Real Park, Foothill Boys’ and Girls’ Cross Country won just as they would do anything else, together.
On the familiar and relatively flat course, the Dragons earned winning scores in each heat, swiftly defeating their opponents from twelve schools across the county: Bishop Diego, Carpinteria, Cate, Fillmore, Grace Brethren, La Reina, Malibu, Nordhoff, Saint Bonaventure, Santa Clara, Santa Paula and Thacher.
Note on Cross Country Scoring: A team’s score is calculated by adding the points earned by their first five runners to finish. Those runners earn points based on their overall place in the race, first place earning one point, second earning two points, etc. The team with the lowest total score wins.
To kick off the meet, the junior varsity boys’ team showed early dominance. A slew of Foothill runners could be found leading the pack, accompanied only by Jonathan Ordaz ‘19 of Fillmore High School, but by the second lap, Ordaz had passed the Dragons up, with Jake Turville ‘18, Raine Hagerty ‘19, Jason Messner ‘19 and Daniel Guzman ‘18 trailing. By the final 800 meters, Ordaz remained far in the lead, with Turville seconds behind.
Ordaz earned first place with a time of 17:05.90, but with four Foothill runners behind him, the Dragons had an obvious scoring advantage. Foothill’s top five runners had a combined score of 21, with Fillmore, who took second place, earning double that.
Turville finished first for Foothill with 17:12.00, a personal record. He was followed by Hagerty (17:21.05), Jakob Villasenor ‘18 (17:31.65), Guzman (17:32.68) and Messner (17:42.23).
Turville feels he did well in this race partly because of the time he spent laying the groundwork.
“The day is pretty much just a big preparation for the meet,” he said. “You have to stay focused.”
Part of that preparation is what he calls “dominant thought,” a positive phrase that you tell yourself continuously throughout the day and use as an anchor throughout the race.
“You have to build up a dominant thought, so, when you start the race, right before the gun goes off, you think your last dominant thought,” he said, “and just hold onto that.”
The girls’ junior varsity race was dominated by Foothill, who claimed not just first place, but the first nine places.
They, like the rest of their team before them, traveled in a pack for the first lap.In the second lap, Elizabeth Egbert ‘18 and Kami Kunes ‘20 made their way to the front. Kunes felt that having Egbert running with her was a great help for her win.
“My teammate Elizabeth really helped me because she was running right in front of me. I just tried to stay with her the whole time,” Kunes said.
Kunes went on to just barely edge her teammate out in the final seconds of the race because “at the end I just felt like I could give a little more, so I just tried to finish as hard as I could,” she said.
Kunes finished in 20:12.52, just a fraction of a second before Egbert (20:12.81).
They were followed by Carly Leandro ‘20 (20:37.10), Mikayla Erlenborn ‘20 (20:59.17 ), Isabelle Egbert ‘18 (21:06.58), Wessal Esber ‘18 (21:13.48), Addy Munroe ‘20 (21:20.30), Sasha Sturtz ‘19 (21:21.06) and Hannah Dearman ‘21 (21:24.93). Together, they scored a perfect 15 points, with Fillmore behind them scoring 60 points.
Coach Jason Dinkler thinks “overall it was a good day,” but recognizes that there is room to grow.
“We’re always shooting for November,” because “Thanksgiving is the state meet.”
He feels that great improvements can and will be made just from doing what cross country runners do so well: working together.
“I think just the experience of running day in and day out with each other, trusting each other, and getting closer in that way is going to help a lot,” he said.
It’s important to put in those miles, because, when it comes to running, Dinkler sees it as more than a sport.
“Running is the perfect metaphor for life: you get what you put into it,” he said.
The boys’ varsity team continued the trend of leading early. In the first lap, all seven of the runners could be found running side by side, but by the second lap, they had dispersed.
Henry Pick ‘19 strode to the head of the pack, while Chris Kuchta ‘18, Ryan Bova ‘18 and three Thacher runners, Colin Kirkpatrick ‘19, Ford Shaper ‘19 and Rico Lopez ‘18, followed from a distance.
In the third lap, Pick was hardly even in sight of those behind him, finishing 15 seconds ahead of the next runner.
Pick credits his success to a strong mental basis. He tested out a method popular among his teammates, which they call “The Cave.” Though it may sound menacing, the tactic is just a form of intense focus, in which all thoughts outside of the current moment are dimmed, as if your mind were in a cave.
This mental approach helped Pick to finish first with a time of 15:52.01. Next came three Thacher runners, Kirkpatrick, Shaper and Lopez.
Kuchta finished fifth (16:23.98) and Bova sixth (16:30.09).
Bova was pleasantly surprised with his performance.
“I finished a lot farther ahead than I expected,” he said.
Trey Casswell ‘18 (16:32.41) and Alec Llamas ‘18 (16:33.81) came in together to claim eighth and ninth place.
As a team, the varsity boys earned 29 points, followed by Thacher, who earned 41.
The varsity girls’ team kept the Foothill momentum going in the next race, where they, too, could be seen in the lead. Blakeman quickly made her way to the front along with Carissa Rodriguez ‘18 of Fillmore, Tess Edwards ‘18 of Thacher and fellow Dragons Olivia Burton ‘18, Hana Vrablik ‘19 and Kennedy Gomez ‘19.
In the next lap, Blakeman kept up her speedy pace, with teammate Burton on her tail and Vrablik and Gomez in the next pack.
By the final lap, Blakeman had established a clear edge, and used the mantra “I already won,” to fuel her kick in the final stretch.
After a “weird start” to the season, Blakeman decided to “step it up” in this week’s training, primarily in the mental preparation of the sport. She focused on visualization, both of herself winning and herself simply “doing what’s best for my team.”
Prior to the final 800 meters, she would tell herself “I can and I will” or sometimes just “I can” to get through the challenging parts in the race. With this new mental strategy, she “really felt a pay off,” and the scores showed it.
Blakeman ran her fastest time this season at 18:41.23.
But, of course, Blakeman “couldn’t have done this without [her] team,” and her teammates made great contributions as well.
Burton finished second in 18:46.25, and fifth, sixth and seventh place were all secured by Foothill runners, Gomez in fifth (19:23.84), Vrablik in sixth (19:28.07) and Lauren Kearney ‘19, battling a leg injury, in seventh(19:28.69).
Together, they scored 21 points, a whopping 41 points fewer than second-place Fillmore.