Something special is happening at Los Gatos High, and the runners on the school's cross-country teams sense it.
One of two schools with both their boys and girls teams ranked in the top five in the Central Coast Section -- Carlmont is the other -- Los Gatos has arguably become the area's strongest overall program. The Los Gatos boys are ranked second in the section and the girls fourth.
``It's a very competitive environment,'' junior Andy Burich said.
What gives the Wildcats a distinct advantage is that their boys and girls have separate coaches. At most schools, one coach oversees the entire program.
Thomas Newman is in charge of the boys, and Monica Townsend oversees the girls, and both coaches are former Los Gatos standouts. Newman graduated in 1996 and went onto run collegiately at Oregon and Tennessee. Townsend, of the class of '86, still holds various course records at Los Gatos.
Newman's and Townsend's teams are both young. The boys have only one senior among their top eight, and the girls have two in the top seven.
The teams' goals are similar -- to win the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League's De Anza Division, finish first in the Central Coast Section, and place in the top five at state.
But the ways they would go about accomplishing those goals are slightly different.
Unlike the boys, who are led by Stanford Invitational champion Matthew Petrillo, the girls don't have a top-class front-runner.
``Some teams have one runner who wins every race,'' said senior and girls' captain Jacqui Kemp. ``We don't have that one runner. But we have very little gaps between our runners. It feels like a team effort.''
Townsend said she has about 16 varsity-caliber runners.
``That's how you win championships,'' she said.
At the front of that bunch are Townsend's daughter, sophomore Kaela, and junior Jill Goodwin. Close behind is senior Ariana Nicewonger, the team's MVP the past two seasons. Kemp, junior Paige Knudsen, and sophomores Callie Mulgannon and Erin Fabrice round out the group.
The girls knew they were about to begin an exciting fall when they opened their season with a victory at the De La Salle Invitational.
``We spent so much time working this summer,'' Goodwin said. ``All we had to do was go out and race.''
The girls went on to finish fourth at Stanford and seventh at the Jim Danner Invitational in Oregon.
Stanford was where Petrillo and the other Wildcats boys left their mark, emerging as the Division II champion.
Upset that he didn't qualify for the CCS finals in the 3,200 meters last spring, Petrillo began a high-mileage summer training regimen to prepare for his junior campaign. He wouldn't divulge how much he ran but said he needed a new pair of shoes every three weeks.
The boys team shone again at the Jim Danner Invitational, where they finished fifth behind four nationally ranked teams.
``After how we ran in Oregon, I definitely think we could be top three in state,'' said Petrillo, who last weekend helped the Wildcats topple St. Francis, the top-ranked team in the CCS, at the Serra Invitational in Belmont.
Petrillo finished second and was followed by Burich (13th of 109 runners), Jimmy Jatho (20th), Matt Snee (30th), Dane Sawyer (32nd), Jon Berthet (37th) and Bobby Shawhan (47th).