Tioga junior Matt Spring and Sonora junior Steven Grolle outran the competition Saturday in Folsom to become the Sac-Joaquin Section cross country champions of their respective divisions.
Grolle bested the Division IV pack of 78 runners by 33 seconds in the 5,000m race. He finished in a time of 16:05, a pace of 5:10.6 per mile, to claim the title and advance to the State Meet.
The two-time Section champ won the title last year and most recently won the Division IV Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section Cross Country Meet by 38 seconds in a time of 16:11.
“I was pretty confident going into the race,” Grolle said of Saturday’s meet. “Then I just ran and everyone else fell behind me after the first mile.”
Grolle asked friends from other divisions for tips on how to best manage the Willow Hills course and was told to “go fast” through the final mile.
“I twisted my ankle on the first step of that last mile, so that deterred my confidence a bit,” Grolle explained. “It was more of just a shock to me. I had to get all mentally prepared to tough it out and then it happened right on the first step.”
While it momentarily slowed him down, the injury wasn’t serious enough to completely stop Grolle.
“It was just a little slip of my ankle and I stumbled a bit,” Grolle said. “But there was only a mile left, so only a few minutes of running, and I just kept going.”
Also advancing to State is Division V Section Champ Matt Spring.
The Tioga star placed first in his division Saturday with a time of 16:54. Spring was 35 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
For the Tioga Timberwolves, sophomore Brando Nelson-Haven finished third in a time of 17:58 and sophomore Scott Pomeroy placed 26th in a time of 19:46.
All three runners — along with junior Caleb Decoster, junior Josh Pollock and sophomore Joey Stringer — will advance to the State Meet after finishing second overall as a team.
The Sonora Wildcat varsity boys placed eighth in Division IV. Only the top two teams moved on to State.
The Bret Harte Bullfrogs will also be represented at the State Meet after running to a third-place Division IV finish and just missing the chance to advance as a team.
Bullfrog junior Tristan Boblet finished overall in seventh place in a time of 17:05 and qualified for the State Meet.
Local Divison IV varsity girls teams saw individual runners advancing to the state championships as well.
Sonora senior Samantha Smith finished in second-place with a time of 19:30 and Summerville’s Kristen Turner finished third in 19:54.
“(Turner’s) the best cross country runner I’ve seen in my 10 years at Summerville High for our school,” said head coach Terry Miller. “All of the other girls look up to her as a leader.”
Miller said Turner and Smith have battled back and forth over the years and Saturday wasn’t any different. He said it appeared Smith, who had the early lead, trailed behind Turner for a time before closing the gap.
“Those are the top two girls in our county,” he said.
Smith is shooting for a top 10 finish at the State Meet this year after placing 26th last year.
“My goal is to be in the Top 10 but I’m a little nervous because, if I don’t, I won’t have another year to try it again,” she said.
Turner ran in the State Meet as a freshman and sophomore but was sidelined last year with a broken foot. She’s looking forward to the excitement that comes with competing in the event.
“It’s all of the best people in the state in one place and you learn pretty fast that you’re just a small fish in a big sea,” she said.
While Smith is the only varsity girl runner for Sonora, the Summerville Bears placed fifth as a team. Miller said he was pleased with the team’s overall performance.
“The girls all ran their hearts out and you could see it in their faces during the race,” he said. “I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of and should be proud they did well and represented their school well.”