Benefield: Cross country newcomers race to records at Spring Lake
One looked almost ticked off, the other looked nearly jubilant. One ran totally alone, the other had to fend off a pack of speedy upperclassmen wanting to make their mark on a vaunted course. Both were big winners at the Coastal Mountain Conference cross country championship at Spring Lake that determined the North Central I and II league champs.
In the varsity girls race held Wednesday, St. Helena junior Harper McClain ran alone across the entire 3.05-mile course. By the time she crested the first hill just above the start-and-finish meadow, she was gone.
Victory Christian Academy freshman Jude DeVries, on the other hand, had his hands full throughout the 3.05-mile varsity boys race, finally edging Cloverdale senior Paden Collard by three seconds in the closing sprint.
Both McClain and DeVries etched their names in the North Bay record books with their respective efforts. McClain now holds the ninth-fastest time on that course, joining a storied list of runners that includes Julia Stamps of Santa Rosa, Amber Trotter of Ukiah and Sara (Bei) Hall of Montgomery. DeVries, who is just about brand new to the sport, is now the seventh-fastest freshman to run the course since records began in 1988, according to RedwoodEmpireRunning.com, a local running website.
Despite that finish, McClain — who didn’t even look winded when she crossed the line — had disappointment written all over her face. She didn’t deny it. She came to break 17 minutes.
“I think it goes to show that I set my goals pretty high for myself and when I don’t reach them, it makes me want to push harder,” she said.
Still, that 17:18 is the new best-ever for the CMC championship meet and the new best-ever for a CMC runner. Rylee Bowen, a 2018 grad of Sonoma Academy and a three-time Division 5 state champ, previously held those records. Except for Healdsburg grad Gabby Peterson’s 17:11 last year (eighth-fastest all time), McClain’s time was the fastest on that course since Casa Grande’s Jacque Taylor ran a 17:07 in 2008.
To watch her fly along the course was to see something special.
It bears noting that this is McClain’s first-ever season of cross country. And with that limited resume, she’s posted the fastest time in the North Coast Section by a fair piece, regardless of division, and the third-fastest in California.
So when she says her goal is to win a state title, that ain’t bragging. And when she says she is going to look at her performance on Wednesday and analyze how to get more from herself at the North Coast Section meet Nov. 23 in Hayward — and at the CIF state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno a week later — she is just being tactical.
“I would use this as fuel in the coming weeks to kind of mentally think of ‘OK, you, Harper, can push yourself harder and you need to be OK with feeling the pain you know you can feel,’” she said. “That’s what I kind of like to think about once I run these races … evaluate how much pain I was in — not like an injury or anything — but physical pushing pain, think about where my head was.”
On Wednesday, McClain was alone for the vast majority of the race. She will likely be alone for much of the section championship as well. It’s the downside of being that fast.