Coming into this season, Shanna Sparks and her Carson High School girls cross country teammates had expectations of winning - or at least coming close - at any of their races in Nevada.
That didn't happen on a cool Saturday morning at Golden Gate Park. The Carson girls weren't even close at the Great Race of the Great Bay Great American Cross Country Festival in San Francisco, but the Senators were far from disappointed in their performance at a meet that attracted blue chip high school runners from across the nation.
"Overall, I was pleased with the girls; just to compete with the caliber of teams we saw today, that was an accomplishment," Carson coach Jason Macy said.
Just to gauge the level of competition, defending Nevada 4A state champion Sparks finished 10th in the Section 3 girls race and 16th overall among 309 girls.
Carson finished fifth as a team in its race and 11th overall out of 45 teams. Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the mythical national high school girls cross country champion, finished first in the Section 3 race and first overall.
"They had four runners in the top 10 and had all five in the top 15. They're just amazing," Macy said.
Saratoga Springs compiled 35 points in the 16-team Section 3 race, well ahead of three highly regarded California challengers, Esperanza of Anaheim (96 points), Maria Carrillo of Santa Rosa (151) and Torrance (160). Carson was a close fifth with 166 points.
"We beat some very strong teams," Macy said. "Lake Braddock (Va.) is supposed to be one of the best teams in the East and Eisenhower (Yakima, Wash.) was a state champion last year."
Sparks, a junior, ran the 5,000-meter (3.1 miles) course in a time of 19 minutes, 12.1 seconds on a challenging course that included rolling hills and one stretch on a sandy horse track. Amber Trotter, a senior from Ukiah, Calif., won the race in 17:21.
Carson packed its next three runners together, all within 12 seconds of each other. Sophomore Cassia Roth ran 20:21 to finish 30th, just ahead of freshmen Ali Marson in 35th (20:31) and Sheena Bonaldi 38th (20:33).
"Cassia had a great race as always," Macy said. "And Ali and Sheena, they both really stepped up for us today."
Emily Johnson was Carson's fifth runner as she finished 58th in 21:14. Lindsay Dorio and Amanda Benson also finished 63rd and 64th respectively, both timed at 21:21.
Another highlight from Carson's perspective was its finish in relation to defending Nevada 4A state champion Centennial of Las Vegas. Centennial finished third in the Section II race, but when the overall results were tallied, the Bulldogs were 15th - four places behind the Senators.
"That's not to say we're better than Centennial, but it does let us know we can compete with them right now," Macy said. "If we can keep things on track, we've got a chance to get them at the state meet."
In the boys competition, Carson finished 11th in its Section III race and 30th overall out of 48 teams. Josh Corder led the Senators, as the junior ran 17:30 to finish 39th. Sophomore Jeffrey Martin was close behind with a 17:34 effort to finish 42nd and Andrew Pederson ran 17:47 to finish 49th. Brian Rebholtz ran 18:19 to finish 71st and Brett Anderson ran 18:38 to finish 78th for the Senators.
"Jeff, Brian and Brett all improved their times by about 40 seconds, so they made major strides in their running today," Macy said.
Sophomore Joe Callison and freshman Doug Holderman didn't figure in the scoring, but ran respective times of 19:30 and 20:07.
"Our kids learned they can run at that level," Macy said. "It was just a neat experience to be at a meet like that, with the bands playing and the big finish line where they ran through big balloon arches."
The Senators compete again this Friday in a three-way Northern 4A meet at 3:30 p.m. in Fallon.