A year ago, Emily Harris endured a rough cross country season. The Sobrato High senior battled illness, limiting her fitness and leading to a subpar season. Her confidence took a hit, and yet deep down inside Harris had an inkling she was still capable of returning to the form of her freshman and sophomore years, the latter in which she qualified to the CIF State Championships.
Last Sunday at Toro Park in Salinas, Harris’ high school career came full circle, as she finished third overall in 19 minutes, 1.2 seconds in the Central Coast Section Division III championship race to qualify for the state meet. The CIF State Championships will be held on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.
“I feel triumphant,” she said. “Last year I went through so many hurdles, and this year of course the smoke was a problem, but that was a problem for everyone. I’m just happy I was able to stay consistent throughout the season so I was able to have a good race here.”
Harris wasn’t the only local runner who qualified for state, as Live Oak High sophomore Audrey Reed and Oakwood sophomore Kate Marcotullio each advanced to state for the second straight year. Even though Reed wasn’t at her best, she managed to finish seventh in the Division III race in 20:02.7 over the 3.0-mile course. Marcotullio managed an eighth-place finish in the Division V race in 20:39.7.
Harris, Reed and Marcotullio all were in the unenviable position of not being able to perform legitimate workouts in the last couple of weeks due to the poor air quality from the Northern California Camp Fire.
“The race didn’t go as planned and I didn’t do really good, maybe because I wasn’t able to train as hard in the last two weeks,” Reed said. “We were in the gym all the time, and you can’t really go that hard. I felt like Toro was much harder and I was slower. But I’m happy I made state, and I’m looking forward to having a better race there.”
Said Marcotullio: “I’m just excited to be able to accomplish my goal. I was a little nervous going in because of not being able to practice, and Toro felt harder, but maybe that was because I was pushing it a little harder.”
Marcotullio wanted to take things out fast at the start so she didn’t get stuck in the back of the pack on the narrow first turn of the race, which happens about 250 meters from the start. There was a couple of points in the race in which Marcotullio felt nervous, and in each instance she found another gear.
“There is one part of the course where I usually go slow and die, but this time I wasn’t going to let that happen,” she said.
Every time Marcotullio approached a hill, she knew she had to push it and not lose a position. Reed is usually strong on the hills as well, and she came off the start line fast and was alongside Harris as the two leaders of the race for the first half mile. However, after that point Reed knew something was up.
“I didn’t feel as great as I usually do,” said Reed, the reigning Blossom Valley League champion. “I just didn’t have a very good day.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Reed have a huge bounce back performance at state. Reed rarely dwells on a performance, whether it’s a huge personal-record or sub-standard performance. That is part of the reason why she has been an elite runner since entering Live Oak High last year as a freshman sensation.
Harris had a similar impact at Sobrato in her freshman year three years ago, nailing down fast times and displaying a runner’s heart in the process. In her final CCS go-around, Harris stuck to her game plan to go fast at the start but not overly fast.
“I knew I didn’t want to push the first 400 (meters) because in past experiences I’ve tired my legs out, to the point where I would have just trouble running,” she said.
Harris put herself in great position from the start, and stayed with the lead pack until eventual champion Tessa Chen of Mills pulled away in the final half mile.
“I had to remind myself to stay in the top pack and keep going even though it hurt a lot ,” she said. “I was kind of scared at one point because my calves were a little tight, but I was able to have a nice finishing kick sprint at the end. I forgot I had it in me.”
Sobrato’s No. 2 runner, sophomore Jessica Faulk, finished 23rd in 21:25.3. Afterward, Harris helped an exhausted Faulk in the runners’ recovery area, as Faulk leaned on Harris’ shoulder.
“I have to make sure I treat these kids well,” Harris said. “I love them and I really want them to do well after I leave. … This year has been a great experience, a complete 180 (degree turnaround). I’m in a much better mental and physical state.”