The Central Coast Section has built a reputation as home of some of the top girls distance runners in the state. Former standouts Alejandra Barrientos (San Lorenzo Valley, now at UCLA) and Shannon Rowbury (Sacred Heart Cathedral, Duke) helped build that by winning multiple state titles the past five seasons.
The tradition should continue. Several outstanding distance runners with solid chances at section and state medals this season will be showcased at this weekend's Stanford Invitational, one of the major early-season meets.
By May's section finals, there could be five or six athletes with times under five minutes in the 1,600 meters. (Valley Christian's Amanda Thornberry has already logged in at 4:54.20 and owns the section's best times in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.)
CCS runners also held the top three spots at the state cross-country meet in Division III, meaning the 3,200 will be just as competitive.
``It's packed,'' said Sacred Heart Cathedral Coach Andy Chan, who coached Rowbury to state titles in the 800 and 1,600. ``It doesn't happen every day, so for us as coaches and fans, we should feel lucky to witness this week in and week out.''
The 3,200 might be the most stacked event in the section, as the top six finishers from last year's CCS final return. Gunn senior Ruth Graham is the defending 3,200 champion and is scheduled to compete at Stanford, as is Presentation's Melissa Grelli (second place in CCS, seventh in state) and St. Ignatius sophomore Ciara Viehweg (second place in state and third in CCS). Mitty sophomore McKayla Plank, Sacred Heart Cathedral senior Michelle Gallagher and Aptos senior Casey Nevitt round out the returning CCS medalists.
Four of those athletes compete in the West Catholic Athletic League, which should make for one fantastic league meet. The only downside: The WCAL receives only two automatic berths into the CCS trials and finals, so anyone not among the top two must record one of the top eight marks in the CCS on the day of league finals to advance.
Chan said it's too early in the season for athletes to begin gauging themselves against one another.
``It's about getting out there and being competitive,'' Chan said. ``I always try to get our athletes to worry about what they're doing but not to get caught up too much in who else is running what. It's March, and people will be doing their serious racing in June.''
Meanwhile, Rowbury, who won state titles in the 1,600 as a senior and the 800 as a junior, will make her NCAA outdoor debut at the Stanford Invitational. A freshman at Duke, Rowbury qualified for the NCAA indoor championships earlier this season.
SOFTBALL: Monica Abbott, North Salinas' star pitcher, sparked the Vikings to the Circle of Champions tournament championship at Twin Creeks on Saturday. The 6-foot-3 senior struck out 12 batters in North Salinas' 1-0, eight-inning victory over then-No. 1 Mitty in the semifinals, then extended her streak of shutouts to eight with a 4-0 victory over Carlmont in the final, striking out 17.
That title came after the Vikings' 1-0 victory over No. 3 Notre Dame-Salinas on Thursday in a Tri-County Athletic League showdown. Abbott, 19-4 last season with a 0.24 ERA, also earned the victory against the Spirits.
``We've had a good week,'' North Salinas Coach Keith Berg said. ``We also beat Notre Dame-Salinas in a barnburner, so the confidence was definitely there. To beat Mitty is huge, absolutely huge. They're almost a walking traveling team and very well-coached. We expect a classic duel when we play them and we got it.''
In addition to Abbott's dominating pitching -- she has thrown four no-hitters this season -- North Salinas has enjoyed solid offensive production. Catcher Jennifer Patterson, who is headed for North Carolina State, and first baseman Ashley Pemberton are hitting over .500.
``She's getting good run support, and I still say in close games, it's those kids that can lay down their bunts that make the difference,'' Berg said.
Berg said his team scored the winning run against Mitty on a two-out infield hit that tailed away from a Monarchs fielder.
BASEBALL: Serra junior Chuck Lofgren pitched a one-hitter Thursday in the Padres' 6-0 victory over Valley Christian. He backed up the stellar pitching by going 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs.
Lofgren (3-0) has given up seven hits and three earned runs in 23 2/3 innings for a 0.89 ERA. He is also hitting .452 with four homers for the Padres (11-1, 2-0), ranked No. 1 in the Mercury News top 15.
Monterey's Joey Parigi tossed a no-hitter in a 4-0 victory over Alvarez on Friday. The sophomore struck out 13 batters, went 2 for 3 with a double and improved his record to 3-0.