Cross Country: Douglas girls qualify for state
RENO – Call cross country an individual sport if you want, but the Douglas High girls ran as a team at the Northern 4A Regional Championships on Friday.
Freshman Lindsey Adams emerged as the gold medalist in the girls race and the Tigers realized a season-long goal when they captured third-place as a team and earned the right to run at the state championships.
Adams surged into the lead with just over a mile to go and went on to win with a 19:43 clocking for 5,000 meters at Rancho San Rafael Park. She became only the second Douglas regional champion on the girls side, matching Whitney Lindsey’s victory in 2007.
Then to cap off an ideal autumn day, the Tigers locked up the No. 3 seed to state, and they nearly won it all. Carson edged Galena 74-76 to win the team title and Douglas was close behind with 79. This is the first time Douglas has qualified a team for state since it won back-to-back regional girls team titles in 1997-98.
“We’re ecstatic,” coach Jay Frey said. “The kids set this goal before the season. They believed it from the start and it’s awesome to see the reward at the end.”
To show close how close the Tigers were, their combined team time of 1 hour, 46 minutes and 36 seconds was actually 13 seconds faster than a Carson team that was without its top runner, April Shonnard, who is nursing a leg injury. The Tigers’ five scoring runners finished within 2 minutes, 48 seconds of each other and averaged 21:19 per runner.
Never mind the statistics, the Tigers are simply happy about achieving their goal.
“I’m really excited the team is going,” said senior Sadie Gastelum, who placed fourth in the race.
“It’s been a dream for everyone all year. Everyone has been setting goals and we’ve been working so hard to achieve them. It’s an individual race, but it’s still a team spirit.”
And everyone on the team contributed, according to Frey.
“It was absolutely a team effort,” the coach said. “We have a big team – 40-plus kids – and even though we only had seven here today, they were pushed by the other kids on the team in practice every day all season.”
All the work is paying off at just the right time.
“The kids are peaking at the right time,” assistant coach Mark Walling said.
After running off the shoulder of defending region champion Alex Drozdoff of Carson for much of the race, Adams made her decisive move at the base of a long uphill climb.
“Her go-point was the base of the hill,” Walling said. “For a freshman runner to be that patient is a hard thing to do. She had a race plan and she executed it perfectly.”
Adams was focused on the top of the hill when she began the big push.
“I’m a big strength runner and the hills are my strength,” she said. “That was kind of like a go-point. There’s a bench at the top of the hill, and I wanted to put as much of a gap as I could on everyone.”
Another key for the Tigers was senior Cara Dunkelman, the team’s third runner and 20th overall finisher in 21:51. Her performance was significant considering she had ACL surgery in March.
“I’m excited for her,” Frey said of the senior. “She’s been battling through that knee, and we kept telling her, ‘Be patient. Be patient.’ She’s a big-time fighter; it’s good to see her go all the way to the finish with this.”
Eunice Perez and Bre Chabot finished strong to round out the team scoring help the Tigers fend off challenges from Damonte Ranch and McQueen for the third spot.
“This is an awesome group of kids,” Walling said. “They’re like a family.”
Sophomore Brandon Pankey secured an individual qualifying berth in the 4A boys race as he placed ninth in a time of 17:52.
Even though he felt the state berth was within reach, Pankey admitting to having some pre-race jitters.
“I was pretty nervous,” Pankey said. “My dad showed me some stats as far as rankings, so I was pretty confident, but there is always that are you going, are you not, the not-knowing factor.”
Pankey moved up to fill a void created when the team’s season-long leader, senior Andrew Cobourn, had knee surgery to repair torn meniscus on Wednesday.
“He had a great run,” Frey said of Pankey. “He’s been a solid No. 2 for us all year. He knew he had a shot at going and he stepped up.”
Pankey held back from the fast early pace set by a group that included the eventual winner, Jordan Cardenas of Reno (16:38).
“I knew everyone was going to go out and blaze out of the start so I just wanted to set my own pace and getting up that first hill,” Pankey said. “From then on, it was about picking them off and getting up to the front where I knew I could qualify. Every time I’d pass someone, it’d be like, ‘OK, you’ve got to hold them off; this keeps you going and keeps you moving forward. Then you have to go get the next guy.
“It was crazy being up there (on the awards podium) and hearing my name called out,” he added. “That’s pretty amazing.”
As a sign of promise for the future, the top six runners for the Tigers were all sophomores. Cole Peck was the team’s second finisher in 24th (18:43) and an improved Jeff Williams was close behind in 25th (18:45)
“Those guys have all made a ton of progress,” Frey said of the young team. “They’re a close-knit group, and they’re already hungry for next year.”
The only disappointment was not having Cobourn, a state qualifier in 2010 and one of the North’s top runners this season.
“That was definitely a tough loss,” Frey said. “He’s been a phenomenal leader for us. He may have been sitting at home, but his presence was felt (at the race). The kids did a little cheer for him beforehand, and I think they ran a little harder for him, so he definitely had a presence for us in the race.”