Aptos' Brett Gotcher, center, gets serious as the 2.9 mile race begins at Pinto Lake.
Sentinel Photo by Shmuel Thaler

Cross country championship

Upstart Harbor earns SCCAL league crown

Sentinel Staff Writer

WATSONVILLE — Harbor High School cross country coach Matt Ryan has been telling people all season that his girls team was a contender for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship.

On Thursday at Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville, the Harbor girls did their coach proud, upsetting San Lorenzo Valley by two points, 41-43, for the school’s first-ever league cross country championship.

"This is awesome," Ryan said after watching senior Lauren Christman break the Pinto Lake 2.9-mile course record with a time of 17 minutes, 36 seconds. The old mark of 17:39 was set on Oct. 11 by Aptos junior Casey Nevitt, who was second on Thursday in 17:45.

"It’s not only our first team cross country championship, but our first individual title," Ryan said. "Everyone on the team did their jobs today. They stayed with Casey (Nevitt) and stuck to our plan."

Harbor didn’t race at Pinto Lake this season, so Ryan brought the team to the course last week to get familiar with it. During that practice session, the team mapped out its strategy for victory.

"I couldn’t ask for more," Ryan said. "Our fourth, fifth and sixth runners came up big. I have to hand it to (senior) Laura Albrecht, she stepped up and had a huge race today."

Albrecht, who typically runs as the Pirates sixth or seventh runner, placed 14th (19:20), and fourth on the team. Harbor senior Ashley Watkins, a transfer from Washington state, finished third (17:53) just ahead of teammate Lindsay Christman (18:04) — Lauren’s identical twin sister. Senior, Abbey Wilson was 19th (19:45) and rounded out the Pirates’ scoring.

"We wanted to stay with Casey through the whole start of the race," Lauren Christman said. "With about three-quarters of a mile left, I pushed ahead. The pace surprised me, I thought we’d finish in about 18 minutes."

Nevitt beat Christman in their only meeting this season in September.

"I knew it was going to be close," Nevitt said. "The most important thing to do is learn something from every race. I also think it’s neat to see so many people finishing so close together. In the past we had Ale (Barrientos) and SLV, now the level of competition in the league has been raised."

San Lorenzo Valley was led by senior Hillary Schwarzbach (18:26), who nipped Aptos senior Leanorra Sanchez (18:28) at the finish for fifth place.

SLV’s Emily Romo was seventh (18:30), followed by Stephanie Hamilton, (eighth in 18:37) Raquel Barrientos (11th in 19:16) and 12th Ellen Beebe, (19:16).

Aptos’ Heather Eastman (9th, 18:42) and Soquel’s Aisha Kamala (10th, 19:06) rounded out the top-10.

The team scores included third-place Aptos with 55 points, followed by Soquel (86), Santa Cruz (172), Scotts Valley (176) and Watsonville (177).

The top four teams qualified for the Central Coast Section championships on Nov. 10 at Crystal Springs. Scotts Valley qualified as the only Division V team. Monte Vista Christian’s three runners: Sammy Shaner, Lorraine Swaby and Allina Hightower all qualified as individuals because they were the top three runners not on a qualifying team.

Gotcher win third-straight league title

Sentinel Staff Writer

WATSONVILLE — Brett Gotcher of Aptos High School breezed to victory at the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League cross country championships in just 14 minutes, 35 seconds on Thursday, leading the Mariners to their second consecutive boys title in as many years.

Gotcher’s mark over 2.9 miles shattered the 10-year-old Pinto Lake course record of 14:51, established by Watsonville’s Ignacio "Nacho" Flores in 1991. The victory also gave Gotcher his third-straight individual SCCAL title.

San Lorenzo Valley (62) finished second, 30 points behind Aptos (32) for second place. Watsonville was third (74) and Harbor fourth (99). All four teams qualified for the Central Coast Section cross country championships.

The Cougars were led by sophomore Alex Dunn, who took second in 15:16, and senior Manuel Moore, who placed fourth in 15:48.

After the race, Gotcher was more concerned with his team’s performance than with his own.

"This race meant a lot to me because it’s my last league meet," Gotcher said. "As a team, we really wanted to show people what Aptos is made of. Of course I wanted to run a fast time, but it was more important to win as a team for the second time. It feels good to be a part of something like this."

Aptos coach Dan Gruber said his team, by winning its second SCCAL championship, has become the premier boys cross country program in the county. He also knows he can depend on Gotcher for a top performance.

"I’m very pleased," Gruber said. "He’s (Gotcher) a good runner and he should average under five minutes a mile. With Brett it’s like going to the OK Corral with a machine gun. Any time we can put a ‘1’ on the scoreboard before a race starts is huge."

In addition to Gotcher, Gruber said senior Franco Violich (third, 15:34) and sophomore Jacob Evans (fifth, 16:05) played vital roles in the Mariners’ victory.

"Guys like Franco, Jacob, Dan Bettencourt and Adan Vaca are very selfless and have helped us get to where we are today as a team," Gruber said.

Harbor sophomore Kevin Bull was the first non-Aptos or SLV runner to finish. He was sixth overall (16:07).

Hot on Bull’s heels were a pair of Watsonville Wildcatz. Victor Camacho was seventh (16:11) followed by Eder Tostado (16:16). Soquel’s Jeff Gill was ninth (16:16), and Watsonville’s Daniel Narez placed tenth (16:19).

Watsonville coach Tom Leikam was especially pleased with Narez, who finished the 2.9-mile course with a personal record.

"Daniel has improved immensely," Leikam said. "He dropped 1:25 off his previous best time. He rose to the occasion today."

Because they compete in different divisions, Monte Vista Christian and Scotts Valley also qualified for CCS as teams. Soquel’s Gill and Jordan Levandoski, and Santa Cruz’s Jonah Stuart-Brundage qualified for the section meet as individuals.

Contact Ben McMorries at bmcmorries@santa-cruz.com.