ORANGE — Even for a good cross country team, running in the sweepstakes race week after week can be a drain.
For the first time this year, the Newport Harbor High girls didn't qualify for a sweepstakes race. They instead raced in the varsity Division 2 race at Saturday morning's Orange County Championships.
The Sailors didn't mind. They responded with their best race of the season.
Newport Harbor easily won the 25-team race at Irvine Regional Park with 102 points, highlighting Back Bay athletes competing in the second day of the three-mile meet, which now runs Friday and Saturday. CdM's girls placed ninth in the sweepstakes race on the course, which features two hills but is generally considered pretty fast.
The Sailors also were fast Saturday. Junior Erin Barth finished sixth in 18 minutes, 28 seconds in the Division 2 race. Senior Leah Van Dyke was 17th in 18:45, and sophomore Lauren Loucks placed 26th in 18:56. Other Newport Harbor placers included sophomore Emily Bacon (29th, 19:02), senior captains Katelyn Mead (30th, 19:03) and Ashley Ima (36th, 19:10), as well as sophomore Holly Clemence (47th, 19:22).
Six of the seven Sailors earned medals for placing in the top 40. Sure, the Sailors recently have had standout individual talent like graduate Paige Tennison, who won the girls' sweepstakes race at the OC Championships each of the last two years. Still, Newport girls' Coach Eric Tweit said Saturday's race could be his team's best overall showing in about five years.
"It was by far our best race of the year, as a team," Tweit said. "We were right on the cusp of being in the sweepstakes race. The sweepstakes takes the top 15. If they would have gone to 18, we would have probably been in that race, but this was perfect for us. We've been running every week against the best teams, so it was good for the kids to go in and be able to run a little more relaxed and with a little less pressure on them.
"All seven girls ran really well, and we had three really good frosh-soph girls. Right now, the program's the best it's been in a long time ... I haven't been this happy after a race in a long time."
Barth said she was happy with her individual race, considering she battled chicken pox two weeks ago and also recently had a really bad cold. Overall, the Sailors hope to carry the momentum forward to the Mt. SAC Invitational next weekend.
Sunset League finals follow on Nov. 2 at Huntington Beach Central Park. Newport Harbor hopes to finish top three there to secure a team CIF bid; last year the Sailors were fourth in league.
"We had a pretty good training week this week," Mead said. "We all expected that today was going to be a really good race. We didn't expect that it would be this good, though."
The depth has been helping the Sailors. On Saturday, each of the top seven girls were within 56 seconds of each other.
"If one of us isn't having a great race, we know that somebody else is going to be right there," Mead said.
CdM's girls also are aiming for a destination they didn't reach last year, for the first time in 23 years: the CIF State Meet. They finished eighth in Division 3 last year, one spot out of a trip to Clovis.
"We're coming back for revenge," said sophomore Lilly Schmidt, who finished 49th Saturday in 18:52. She crossed the finish line at the same time as two other CdM runners, junior Kirsten Hansen and freshman Raquel Powers.
Sophomore Jacqueline Choe was the Sea Kings' top finisher, in 18:39, good for 38th place. Senior Ellen Naruse finished 59th in 19:05, and junior Elin Wolker was 62nd in 19:10. The Sea Kings' seventh runner was junior Tess St. Geme, who placed 76th in 19:28.
Like Newport Harbor, CdM's team is balanced. Again, there was well less than a minute between spots one and seven.
"We're not just having one girl go out and the rest of us trail behind," Naruse said. "We're trying to do it as a team, because we think we're going to have more success that way. We're pretty deep.
The Sea Kings also accomplished a goal, as their ninth-place finish was one spot ahead of Pacific Coast League foe Woodbridge. Northwood, which had the individual race champion in senior Bethan Knights (16:48), placed ahead of both teams in fourth place.
Woodbridge won the league cluster meet recently, also held at Irvine Regional Park, by three points over CdM. The competition is fierce between the three teams, leading up to Pacific Coast League finals Nov. 8.