APTOS — Marea Zlatunich wanted to stay in California.

Moreover, the Aptos High star distance runner wanted to keep close to the coast.

An avid surfer, Zlatunich won’t be too far away from the waves or home next fall while attending Cal Berkeley. She recently verbally committed to run both cross country and track for the NCAA Division I Golden Bears.

One of the top distance runners in the state over the last three seasons, Zlatunich fielded offers from a handful of schools over the last few months, but went with Cal after meeting with the team, seeing the campus and getting a feel for the city.

“I just clicked with the team,” she said on Saturday after qualifying for the Central Coast Section track and field semifinals in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meters. “I was a little apprehensive about leaving the coast, but when I got there I really, really liked it. A change for four years would be nice.”

As for surfing, that’s one hobby that can be put on hold until she returns home during the offseason.

“I’m not going there to surf,” said Zlatunich, who will enter school undecided on a major but plans to study one of the biological sciences. “I’m going there to run. It’s a Pac-12 school, so it’s going to be a little more intense.”

Aptos cross country coach Dan Gruber, who also serves as the track team’s head distance coach, said Zlatunich should shine in the coming seasons with the upped level of competition. Last fall, the Golden Bears’ cross country squad finished fifth in the Pac-12 and took 22nd at the NCAA D-I Championships in Kentucky despite having only one senior in their starting seven.

“She needs training and workout buddies that are going to push her. The faster her teammates are, the better,” Gruber said. “She wanted to stay in California and I’m happy she got what she wanted.”

Zlatunich has helped Aptos remain one of the top cross country programs in the section and state over the last four years, leading the Mariners to four straight CCS team championships and a California Interscholastic Federation title in 2015.

As an individual, she won a section crown and was named the CCS Runner of the Year in 2016 and has finished in the top six in her division at the state meet in each of the last three seasons.

On the track, Zlatunich advanced to the section finals in the 1,600 as a freshman and sophomore, but missed last season’s CCS meet with a leg injury. This spring, she has hopes of finally getting over the hump and punching her ticket to the state meet.

“This is the first time I’ve been healthy at this point of any track season since freshman year,” Zlatunich said. “I’m running the times I want to run. I want to make it to state and I feel like I definitely can.”

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