As a Saratoga High School freshman, Alicia Follmar showed potential as a distance runner, finishing 15th in the Central Coast Section Division III cross-country finals. She followed that with a solid showing as a sophomore, improving to seventh in the CCS meet.
But few could have predicted Follmar's ascent to the elite of California's crowded crop of female runners.
Last spring, Follmar won the CCS and state track titles in the mile, putting her at the top of college recruiting lists across the country.
Now, she is a favorite to earn her first CCS cross-country title. Her ability to run from behind and close with a strong finishing kick also makes her a contender for a state title.
Follmar showed her grit Saturday at the 30th Annual Stanford Cross-Country Invitational, a race that draws the best runners from the western region. Nearing the end of the 3.1-mile course, Follmar made her move on Lindsey Kirschman, of Enterprise High in Redding, and was running neck and neck for the last 50 yards when she fell about 15 yards from the tape.
Exhausted but determined, Follmar picked herself up quickly to finish second in a field of 213 runners in 18:33.
``I thought she was going to take over, but her legs didn't have it at the end,'' Saratoga Coach Pete Jordan said. ``If that was me, I'd still be on the ground. She's tired, but she will be fine. She ran a great race; second place in this field is nothing to sneeze at. She is going to be a dominant force in cross-country this year.''
Follmar is the top runner among several standouts in the area. Jordan also singled out Hari Subramaniam, a junior on the Saratoga boys team, who won his first race at the Firebird Invitational last month.
``He's going to be a kid who rises to the top,'' Jordan said.
The Archbishop Mitty girls team is ranked fourth in the section, powered by McKayla Plank, who placed fourth at the CCS meet and seventh at the state meet as a sophomore. Plank finished 12th in her race Saturday in 18:54. The Monarchs also got a solid performance from freshman Renisha Robinson, who finished 33rd out of 248 Division II runners in 19:50.
The Lynbrook girls team is ranked 11th in CCS, and the Lions have been getting a boost from MayC Huang, who has been setting freshman records and running fast times since the start of the season. Saturday, Huang finished 31st in the Division III race in 20:04. Lynbrook senior Aya Wakabayashi has also been making strong contributions, placing 48th at Stanford with a 20:34.
Los Gatos didn't race at Stanford, but the Wildcats will once again field competitive squads.
The Wildcats boys, ranked 11th in the CCS, made a grueling 10-hour drive to Oregon to race in the Northwest Cross Country Classic on Saturday, and finished 11th out of 23 teams.
Freshman Matt Petrillo is Los Gatos' No. 1 runner. Senior Greg Geldman and Nathan Young are running Nos. 2 and 4, while freshman Jimmy Jatho, recently moved up to varsity, is running No. 3.
The Los Gatos girls team, ranked sixth in CCS, took the weekend off, but Coach Monica Townsend is excited about her strong lineup of young runners.
Sophomore Ariana Nicewonger has been running a minute faster than she did last season. Seniors Shana Ravel and Ashley Harris are consistent performers running in the Nos. 2 and 4 positions. The rest of the lineup includes sophomore Jacqui Kemp and three freshmen: Kristy Barker, Jillian Goodwin and Samantha Peppard, along with junior Allie Lemon.
The usually tranquil fairways of the Stanford University Golf Course were filled Saturday with thousands of people on hand for 20 races in an all-day cross-country event that drew high school teams and fans from throughout the West.
For 30 years, the Stanford Cross-Country Invitational has served as an early season barometer for California's top distance runners -- a strong performance at Stanford often translates into a top finish at the state meet two months later. But in recent years, the race has grown beyond the state's borders, attracting many of the top teams in the West.
This year, high schools from Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and even New Zealand competed in the race, co-hosted by Palo Alto High. The race included nearly 4,000 high school runners, both male and female, running in five divisions based on school enrollment.
Several Peninsula athletes had strong showings, led by Menlo-Atherton's standout senior Jeremy Mineau, who won the Division II race at the CCS meet last year and placed 10th at state.
Mineau had an impressive race Saturday, finishing third in Division I at 15:33, just three seconds behind the winner, Evan Garber of Mead High School.
``This race tells you how your training is going and how the work you've put in during the summer has paid off,'' Mineau said. ``In the greater scheme of things, it's an early season race that doesn't mean a lot, but it is good to see how you rank with the competition.''
Mineau tried to push the pace at the mile mark of the 3.1-mile race.
``I didn't want to turn it into a kickers' race,'' Mineau said, referring to runners who pick up the pace at the end. ``I felt like I could go faster and I didn't want to have anything left at the end.''
Moving up to Division I might make the competition easier for Mineau this season. Mineau's time at the CCS Division II final last season was the fastest of any division.
``You never know who will be out there, Division I could be tough,'' Mineau said. ``But last year, Division II was very strong with the Shackleton twins from Carlmont and Andrew Lipkin from Gunn. Those are some of the best runners in the Bay Area.''
Mineau credits teammate Evan Anderson, a junior who was 69th Saturday with a time of 16:53, for keeping him in top shape during team workouts.
``It helps when you're trying to improve to have someone right there with you pushing you every day,'' Mineau said.
Another impressive performance was turned in by Gunn junior Tori Tyler, who finished sixth in the Division II girls race, the best among CCS competitors. Tyler was second last year to her now-graduated teammate, Ruth Graham, in the CCS finals.
``I learned a lot running with Ruth for two years,'' Tyler said. ``I try to follow her approach, especially her mental toughness.''
Gunn juniors Annie Wiley (20.46) and Lauren Morimoto (21:03) also ran solid races, and the Titans edged crosstown rival Palo Alto for 16th place among 35 schools.
Palo Alto was led by senior Danielle Miller, who placed 28th with a time of 19:41, and freshman Renata Cummins (50th in 10:08).
In the Division I girls race, Menlo-Atherton senior Alison Doniger was third among CCS competitors and 40th overall with a time of 20:22.
The Gunn boys teams finished eighth in Division II, led by Zach Klapholz-Brown, Andrew Lipkin and Garrett Reid.
The usually tranquil fairways of the Stanford Golf Course were filled Saturday with thousands of people on hand for 20 races in an all-day cross-country event that drew high school teams and fans from throughout the West.
For 30 years, the Stanford Cross-Country Invitational has served as an early season barometer for California's top distance runners -- a strong performance at Stanford often translates into a top finish at the state meet two months later. But in recent years the race has grown beyond the state's borders, attracting many of the top teams in the West.
High schools from Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and even New Zealand competed in the race, co-hosted by Palo Alto High. The race included nearly 4,000 high school runners, both male and female, running in five divisions based on school enrollment.
Several local athletes had strong showings, led by Monta Vista senior Dana Underwood, who was 46th of 229 entrants in the Division I race, fourth among Central Coast Section competitors. The Matador girls placed 11th out of 32 teams.
Underwood finished seventh in last year's CCS Division I cross-country meet, and she is the leader of a team loaded with young talent.
``In some ways this race is better than the state meet because there are so many runners,'' said Underwood, who hopes to qualify for her third state appearance this year. ``We've got a young team that should do well.''
The husband and wife coaching team of Mike and Loretta Morris is back leading the Matadors. Loretta Morris is in her 22nd year coaching the girls team, and her husband is in his eighth year leading the boys. This year, 86 runners came out for the Matador team, a new school record.
``Dana is running well as usual, which was expected,'' Coach Mike Morris said. ``But we have a handful of freshmen and sophomores who have come out of nowhere. They are running unbelievably well, and they have the best team chemistry I have ever seen.''
That chemistry was evident Saturday as a group of five runners finished within 17 seconds of each other.
Freshman Angela Hsu, senior Jill Blake-Burke, sophomores Connie Shieh and Judy Liang and freshman Carolyn Chuang finished between 81st and 96th place. Another freshman, Lorraine Lau, also has been making contributions for the Matadors.
``I think we have a shot at a section title this year because we're very deep,'' Mike Morris said.
The boys team, led by junior Jason Yow and ranked 12th in the section, is also having an excellent year. Yow, who finished third at the CCS meet as a sophomore, came in 52nd on Saturday with a time of 16:41 on the 3.1-mile course.
``The competition was amazing out there. People were making passes every second of the race,'' Yow said. ``It was a lot different than the meets we normally run in.''
Yow, whom Morris calls a complete runner who combines speed and endurance, is complemented by Scott Russell, who won a league title last year as a freshman, and junior Matt Paquet.
``Scott is beautiful to watch. He floats out there when he runs,'' Mike Morris said. ``And Matt is a hard worker. We're really blessed to have such a great group of kids this year.''