Davis High cross country girls prepare for national meet

As split times were announced after the first mile of the Division I Girls’ CIF State Cross Country Championships last weekend in Fresno, Davis High School coach Bill Gregg listened and thought: “Uh-oh.”

Except for its two fastest runners, Gregg said, Davis’ strategy called for a more measured start to set up a strong finish with designs on a top-three placing in the 5-kilometer race. But while the Blue Devils met their target times for the first mile, Gregg said, when he heard the top five teams named after the first split, Davis wasn’t among them.

“Really concerned,” Gregg recalled this week. “My thoughts were, ‘We’re a little too far back.’”

By the 2-mile mark, though, Davis had climbed to fourth place and was just out of third. And when final results came across, the Blue Devils, led by individual champion Fiona O’Keeffe, had captured a second-place finish at Woodward Park.

It left the Davis team and supporters in “disbelief,” Gregg said, but the bigger news came later that night. That’s when Gregg learned the Blue Devils had received an at-large bid to the 2013 Nike Cross Nationals, an invitational meet held in Portland, Ore. Davis is one of 22 seven-person clubs from across the country competing in the event Saturday.

“Certainly the girls have been dreaming about the Nike meet probably since the middle of last summer,” Gregg said. “But it’s kind of hard to be in state-meet mode and at the same time say, ‘We’ve got to get to Nike.’

“There was a dream, but not an expectation.”

The dream being realized resulted in “a lot of joy, a lot of happy tears,” Gregg said. The Blue Devils leave for Portland on Thursday morning. Along with sophomore O’Keeffe, who won the state meet with a time of 16 minutes, 59 seconds, Davis’ team will include freshman Sofia Castiglioni, who finished 13th at the CIF meet in 17:54, seniors Sophie Meads (18:45) and Pooja Tripathi and juniors Giulia McIsaac (18:31), Maggie McManis (18:53) and Jeanne-Mari McPherson (19:14).

Tripathi, who has battled nagging injuries, did not run in the CIF meet but is making the trip to Portland, Gregg said. Junior Elisa McIsaac replaced Tripathi at the state meet and ran a 21:09.

It’s the first trip for Gregg and his team to the national meet. Gregg said he has talked with coaches who have taken teams in the past and told him, “The first is always a little overwhelming, but it is so much fun.”

Held at the Portland Meadows horse racetrack, the meet features a multiple-loop course with man-made obstacles, according to its website, which will be a slightly unfamiliar experience for the Davis runners. Past years have seen heavy rainfall, rendering a muddy course, but forecasts this year call for drier skies – though with temperatures in the 30s.

Gregg said that might require Davis to alter its race-day clothing a little. Not that a chill will dampen the spirits of the Blue Devils and their families, most of whom Gregg said are making the trip for support. Along with the race itself, the weekend includes activities such as opening and closing ceremonies and possible extended access to the Nike campus for the teams.

“They are so excited,” Gregg said. “We’re just saying we’re going to go and have a great time, then you’re going to get on the line and run smart and run solid. And if you happen to hit a home run – great.”