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Trojan girls take second at section cross country finals

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Davis won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I girls’ cross country championship Saturday with four upperclassmen scoring runners, and Cosumnes Oaks placed third and qualified for the state meet with three.

Oak Ridge High’s girls placed second with no upperclassmen scoring runners, as the Trojans are headed back to state after winning the section title a year ago.

Defying the odds of youth and inexperience, the Trojans qualified for the state championships with two sophomore and three freshmen scoring runners. For the three freshmen, it was their first time running a 5K on the challenging Willow Hills course in Folsom.

“It’s pretty remarkable and pretty cool,” Oak Ridge coach Bob Wright said. “They’ve put a lot of hard work into it. We’re building the culture. It’s the second year in a row going to state, and we hope to go again next year. The girls are excited and they should be. We’ve got three freshmen in the top-five and two sophomores. Our only upperclassmen are our sixth and seventh runners.”

Sophomore Abby Fletcher, the only runner returning from last year’s section championship team, has learned to be a leader of this young group. She placed third in the race in 19 minutes, 17.2 seconds, a personal-best mark on the course by 30 seconds. Oak Ridge’s second finisher was freshman Ava Maier, who placed ninth with a time of 19:52.2.

Sophomore Tiana Oliver, who didn’t even run cross country as a freshman, ran 16th in 20:36.4. Freshmen Dylan Wright (18th, 20:49.2) and Kayla Rutz (21st, 21:01.2) finished the scoring runners. Junior Hannah Connover (21:25.5) and senior Courtney Heller (23:16.0) also ran for the Trojans.

“I kept the girls down at the freshman-sophomore level during the season and they’ve run well there,” Wright said. “Running two miles instead of a 5K, it’s a different tempo and I felt it really helped Abby. It got her used to racing up front.”

Besides having talent, the closeness of the team has been a key to their success.

“We have a really young team, and we’ve all worked hard,” Fletcher said. “I’m so proud of the freshmen. They’ve improved so much, and it’s fun to be a leader to them. The team gets along well. We’ve had team sleepovers, and we run together on days we don’t have practice. Later this week, we’re going to have a ‘Friendsgiving’  and later on we’ll do a Secret Santa.”

Said Wright, “It’s just a great culture and that you can’t coach that. The girls like each other. They get along and now they’re having success.”

The team will now try to improve on last year’s 14th-place finish at the state meet to be held at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first Oak Ridge cross country team that qualified for the state championships. For Fletcher, the only team member who ran in last year’s race, she’s hoping to improve on her performance this year.

“I ran an 18:50 last year so I hope to improve on that,” Fletcher said.

Sohan Kancherla ran in the varsity boys’ race, and finished 37th in 17:57.2.