Analy junior Carolina Dawson and El Molino junior Kazuki Hillberg.

Front runners – Returning to lead their respective cross country teams this year are Analy junior Carolina Dawson and El Molino junior Kazuki Hillberg. 

High school athletes have hit the ground running this week in preparation for the much-anticipated North Bay League cross country season.

After months of anticipation, the final OK was given by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and officials from the North Coast Section, allowing teams to begin official practices on Feb. 1, with league meets slated to start on March 10. The season will span a total of nine weeks, but there will be no league championship meet. 

Like the past two seasons, the Lions and Tigers will compete in the North Bay League Redwood Division, along with Healdsburg, Cardinal Newman, Elsie Allen, Rancho Cotate, St. Vincent and Ukiah.  The Lions will hold their home meets on a newly designed course on the El Mo campus, while the Tigers will continue to host their meets at Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol. 

Outside of the usual challenges of fielding a competitive team, the Lions and Tigers will have a new set of obstacles in front of them, most notably keeping athletes socially distant and healthy throughout the season. 

“This is certainly going to be an adventure; for runners, coaches, everybody,” El Mo coach Mark Fassett reported. “But I’m already proud of how these teens have handled the online learning process, while most of them have also been working out since fall just to be ready for the possibility of a winter season.” 

Analy coach Mark Grismer concurred, saying, “We’ll see what the season brings,” he said. “I suspect all coaches share a similar view until the pandemic is finally over.”

Tigers on prowl for NBL supremacy

Although it’s way too early for predictions, the Tigers figure to compete in the upper echelon of the NBL Redwood Division, having finished second the last two seasons to Windsor. But since the Jaguars were moved to the NBL Oak Division this year, it may pave the way for a very competitive title chase. 

“It’s hard to say what I have in Analy cross country yet, though I know there will be about 30 kids,” Grismer said. “I hope to assemble a good girl’s team with Carolina Dawson (defending NBL champion) and Emma McNatt returning from 2019, running strong.  I have some new frosh-soph girls that will strengthen the team as well if they can continue to improve.”

Analy should be equally strong on the boys’ side, led by Ben Neagarder, who will trade his soccer cleats for running shoes this season. Also returning to lead the team are veterans Jack Cheshier-Fraenkle and Aiden Finnegan.      

“They’re joined by a couple new frosh boys that I hope can evolve into stronger runners,” Grismer noted. “More than anything, I’m glad to have them all outside running and seeing each other, even from five yards away.”  

Lions looking to run down opponents

For the first time in recent memory, El Molino will have plenty of athletes toeing the starting line for both the varsity boys and girls squads.

Returning to lead the boys team is junior Kazuki Hillberg, a top six finisher at the NBL Redwood Division finals in 2019. He’ll be joined by emerging sophomores Ted Broome, Drew Giacomini and Brett Kellar. The Lions also figure to benefit from a strong crop of freshmen in their first year of competition.

The girl’s team should be just as strong, led by senior Jeanne Broome (7th place NBL, 2019) and junior Sienna Fassett (9th place NBL, 2019).

“We’re thrilled about having a full girl’s team to compete against the rest of the eight-team Redwood Division,” Mark Fassett said. “I see this as a unique opportunity to show how much we can accomplish in a nine-week season, but also as a springboard to a great track season and an even better fall 2021 cross country campaign.”

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