James Lick sophomore Kayla Matsuda had never won a race before, a fact that seemed impossible to believe as she approached the finish line far ahead of the field at the prestigious Stanford Invitational on Saturday.
Even her coach, David Boston, was stunned. At first, he refused to look.
``My assistant said, `I think that's Kayla coming,' '' Boston recalled. ``I said, `No way.' I had no expectations of her winning today at all.''
Matsuda indeed won the girls' Division IV race, in 18 minutes, 47 seconds on the 3.1-mile layout at Stanford Golf Course, beating a field of 126 that included the past two Central Coast Section champions in that division, Harbor's Christina Barrientos and Valley Christian's Jennifer Bergman.
She was one of four individual and two team champions from the CCS among the 12 races that comprised the 33rd annual event, which has become one of the strongest cross-country meets in the country.
Other CCS winners were San Lorenzo Valley junior Taylor Franklin in girls' Division III (18:34), Alisal junior Diego Estrada in boys' Division I (15:29), Valley Christian-Dublin senior Robbie Knorr in boys' Division V (15:49), and Carmel in both the boys' and girls' Division IV team competitions.
In addition, Willow Glen's Marcos Corona (19th, 15:33) and Mohamed Abdalla (23rd, 15:37), and Los Gatos' Matthew Petrillo (25th, 15:37) were among the top finishers in a daunting boys' seeded race. The race's 27-team field included four teams ranked among the top six in the nation, and seven of the state's top 10.
Matsuda, who also competed on the Comets' wrestling and swimming teams, had never run competitively until joining the cross-country team last year. She placed among the top three in each of her previous three races this season (two in frosh-soph races), but Boston felt she hadn't challenged herself enough.
``When are you going to decide to really push it?'' he asked her. ``When are you going to take a chance and go for the win?''
Matsuda decided the time was right.
``I'd try to catch a girl, and when that pace got easier, I'd try to go to the next one,'' she said of her strategy.
Matsuda said it felt strange to be in front and thought someone would pass her. She was gripped with one overwhelming question: ``Is this real?''
Last season there was an obvious top boys runner in the CCS, the then-senior Ben Sitler of St. Francis. This season, the competition for top spot has been wide open, but may be getting a bit clearer.
``Diego's the guy everyone's looking up to,'' said Santa Cruz Coach Greg Brock, whose runner, Michael Landry, was second in Division IV (15:46).
Estrada was a state track qualifier in the 3,200 meters, but has clearly improved from even that level since last spring.
``He's mentally strong, he believes in himself,'' Alisal Coach Ignacio Flores said. ``He's really coming into his own. The only thing that can stop him is himself.''
Estrada waited in second behind Yuba City's Brad Doering until gliding through two miles in a comfortable 9:54, following through with a planned burst to take the lead. The task, however, was more difficult for Corona in the seeded race. But that was OK with his coach, Victor Santamaria, who entered Willow Glen in the toughest race to toughen his runners.
Corona went out hard, hitting the mile in 4:39, but got bounced from side to side by flying elbows and faded in the middle of the race. Corona, however, rallied to pass 10 runners during his finishing kick.