Several of Tuolumne County's strongest runners competed in the 2012 CIF State Cross Country Championships on Saturday, where Sonora junior Steven Grolle earned a medal for finishing in the top 10 of Division IV.
Grolle came in 10th place out of 204 individuals after running the 5,000 meter course at Fresno's Woodland Park in 15:56, a pace of 5:08 per mile. He qualified for the State championships after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section title for the second year in a row on Nov. 10.
"The first mile I took in around 4:40, which is really fast for a 5K first mile and that probably took a toll on my legs," said Grolle, who was hoping to finish at least in the top three. "Every year at that field it's a fast first mile, but this year it was an incredibly speedy one. I was sitting back in the pack and still ran a 4:40. After doing that, you start getting tired with two-plus miles to go."
Grolle said he was "hanging on for dear life" for the rest of the race. He found himself in 10th place going into the last leg and being pursued closely by Piedmont's Julian Frost, who finished ahead of Grolle at an earlier competition.
"That really ticked me off," Grolle said. "I heard his coach yelling 'Frosty!' and I thought 'I'm not going to get beat by a guy named Frosty.'
"I wanted a medal and I just didn't want to lose to Julian, so whenever he tried to pass me I would move over. Then I just took off on the final stretch and left him in the dust."
The 2012 season was a successful one for the young runner, who is anticipating a return next year with his eyes firmly fixed on the State title.
"This race didn't show my true ability in cross country," he said. "I know I could have done better. Next year, with the additional strength from training and better muscle tone from years of running, I just would love to win State."
Grolle will on Saturday run in the 2012 Foot Locker Western Regionals, where athletes from across the United States will compete for a chance to advance to the Nationals.
After that, it's back to track and field.
"In the winter I'll just be keeping myself in shape and and looking forward to running around in circles on flat ground rather than on hills and dirt," he chuckled.
Also running at the State meet was Wildcat senior Samantha Smith. She finished 53rd out 202 Divison IV girls in 20:04 (6:28 per mile).
"I'm disappointed in myself as far as the State meet goes, but it just made me more motivated to end my senior year at track on a better note," she said.
Smith said she will be visiting Troy University in Alabama this week because she's been offered an academic scholarship and a possible spot on the freshman track and field team.
Behind Smith was Summerville's Kristen Turner, who was 93rd in 21:00 (6:46 per mile).
Tristan Boblet represented Bret Harte as an individual and was 48th in the Division IV boys after running the course in 16:46 (5:24 per mile).
For Divison V, Tioga's entire cross country team qualified for the state championships. The team came in 20th out of 22 while Timberwolves star Matt Spring ran for 79th place as an individual in 17:29 (5:38 per mile).
Tioga qualified for State by finishing second in the Section. Spring led the Timberwolves by winning the individual title.