By Staff Writer Rishi Chillara
As the fall sports season concludes, Varsity Girls’ Cross Country celebrates not only their third consecutive year as MVAL champions but also their first undefeated season in four years.
The girls’ team went 7-0 in dual meets and won first place at the MVAL meet on November 9 at Quarry Lakes, with Captain Senior Avery Smith and Sophomores Rachel Lau and Hana Nip making the MVAL All-League team.
Head Coach Jack Marden attributes the team’s success to a “good balance of experienced kids and new talent” and the leadership of veteran runners. Newer Varsity members were able to follow the examples set by Smith and Seniors Celina Lee and Cindy Yuan, who have been running for all four years of high school. Smith cites talented underclassmen whose ambition and work ethic inspired the entire team to do their best. “The group dynamic that we had was one of the reasons we could pass that extra girl or get that extra place,” said Smith.
Despite the undefeated record, the team’s season was no walk in the park. The Napa fires and Homecoming week were major obstacles that the team had to face. Marden said that many runners were busy performing in airbands and cheering on their respective classes during Homecoming week, leaving many runners exhausted from the festivities. As a result of the poor air quality from the Napa fires, FUSD canceled all outdoor sports practices, leaving the team without training for a week. Injuries were also a significant hurdle the Varsity team dealt with, but hardworking Sophomores Helen Chen and Rachel Hsiao stepped up to fill the gap during meets.
Over the course of the season, the team dynamic and racing style constantly shifted but remained strong, with Smith anchoring the team with consistent first place finishes. One of the team’s toughest meets was against Irvington High School early on in the season, where they were able to grab victory by one point. Competing in Irvington’s home course, Coyote Hills, the girls had to face a tough terrain and long inclines, giving Irvington a remarkable home court advantage. Smith attributes their victory to consistent training near Mill Creek, a standout performance by Lee, and a strong final kick from Lau. Another notable point in the season was against James Logan High School, an opponent MSJ had not won against for three years. A stellar team race led by Smith, Lee, Nip, and Freshman Farrah Lin all came together to the Varsity Girls’ first head-to-head victory over their rival since 2013.
Marden is extremely proud of both the Boys’ and Girls’ performances this season, with the Boys’ team overcoming severe injuries to win the MVAL meet for the second year in a row, and attributes most of the credit to the athletes. “[Running] is very difficult, but ultimately a part of your learning. Whatever mission students do to accomplish their goals is not easy, it takes a lot of work, patience, and time,” said Marden. “That’s why our school does so well, and that’s the lesson I try to get across to them.”
Both Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ team ran NCS Meet of Champions Division II races this weekend on Saturday, November 18 at Hayward High School, placing 10th and 9th place, respectively, out of 19 teams.
With many promising underclassmen, the team is confident in their future prospects, with Coach Marden expecting both the Boys’ and Girls’ teams to win MVALs next year.
Photo Courtesy John Hotchkiss