BELMONT—Aptos High’s Brooke Willoughby was a little disappointed that the Mariners weren’t able to capture a Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Cross Country championship banner this year.
So, the junior standout runner and the rest of her teammates went into the Central Coast Section Championships with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.
The fiery attitude paid off on Nov. 13 as Willoughby placed fourth in 20 minutes, 2.2 seconds on the 2.95-mile course at Crystal Springs to help the Mariners capture their 16th Division III title, and their first one since 2017.
Aptos placed its five scoring runners in the top 20 to win the D-III title with a score of 45. Notre Dame (85) of San Jose was second and Sacred Heart Cathedral (90) of San Francisco was third.
Aptos coach Dan Gruber said he wasn’t sure if it was expected or not. He mentioned that the competition in D-III has gone down these past couple of years.
“It’s not that I don’t feel confident. I think that we raced well and we did OK,” he said. “We competed well, but I was surprised that we beat them by 40 points.”
Sophomore Rachel Hoops (20:23.0) was seventh and Malia Moreno (21:13.2) took 13th. Seniors Mairin Mullen (21:16.4; 17th) and Annie Eikemeyer (21:21.9; 19th) also scored for Aptos.
Gruber said around the 2-mile mark he thought the team’s 3-4-5 runners were in a great position to give them a section title.
“[Willoughby] and [Hoops] have always been solid for us but [Moreno], [Mullen] and [Eikemeyer], I really think they stepped up and raced fantastic,” Gruber said.
Gruber said he’s still disappointed with last year’s cancelation of the CCS Championships, especially after having great boys and girls teams that he knew would’ve won both section titles.
The Mariners now move to the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 27.
It’ll be a first-time experience for the girls and Gruber said they’re going to use the race as an opportunity to learn. He mentioned that they didn’t have the advantage of competing in large invitationals this season.
“Normally we like to get in a couple of big ones so that they don’t get overwhelmed and state is very overwhelming,” Gruber said. “So, we’re going to keep modest goals and the strategy will be accordingly.”
St. Francis sophomore Monserrat Ramirez took sixth (20:19.9) in the D-V race, and qualified for a trip to Fresno.
Watsonville High freshman Katelynn Ruiz (19:54.0) finished 26th out of 119 runners in the D-I race.
The Wildcatz finished 13th as a team.
Boys cross country
Aptos junior Trent Nosky (16:43.9) placed sixth in the D-III race to advance to the CIF State Cross Country Championships. Teammate sophomore Evan Niles (17:21.8) took 20th to help the Mariners (238) to a ninth-place finish.
Gruber said he believes that Nosky will have a great race in Fresno and expects that his standout runner will excel in the upcoming track season.
“He’s just getting his sea legs, so to speak, in cross country and I think it’ll be a good one for him, too,” Gruber said.
St. Francis senior Julian Vargas (15:37.4) finished second to York senior Michael Julian (15:15.4) in the 65-runner Division V race. Vargas qualified for state, as well.
Monte Vista Christian junior James Ponzio (16:23.6) took seventh in the D-IV race to qualify for state as an individual. He led the Mustangs (174) to a seventh-place finish.
Watsonville (524) took 18th in the D-I race. Senior Sebastian Abonce led the Wildcatz (18:07.7; 84th).