Girls’ cross country team finishes season with high morale and a strong sense of camaraderie

November 22, 2019 — by Nitya Marimuthu

The runners on the girls’ cross country team had spent their whole season training for the Central Coast Section (CCS) finals race at Crystal Springs. They had gone through numerous workouts: long, winding runs that increased their stamina and short but strenuous hill repeats to get their legs ready for the dusty, packed, competitive race that was CCS finals. 

Finally, on Nov. 16, the team’s moment had come. The top seven Toga runners, selected as the top performers out of the pool of 53 girls on the team, tested their season’s training against 81 runners from schools such as Aptos High School and St. Ignatius College Prep in the DIII race. 

Despite their strong runners and high team morale, the team was not able to advance any runners to the state meet. The cutoff to move on to the state championship meet on Nov. 30 in Woodward park was not forgiving — the team had to place in third overall, or individual runners had to come in around the top five.

Seven runners competed at the meet: Freshman Elizabeth Stoiber, Elsa Blom and Allison Tan, sophomores Tiffany Wang and Amoli Vanavadiya, junior Jessie Zhou and senior Sanjana Reddy. 

Zhou and Blom led the team through the 2.95-mile race, placing 16th and 17th with times of 20:40.01 and 20:43.80. Vanavadiya and Wang both attained personal records (PRs). Out of the 11 teams competing, Saratoga tied for fourth place with Santa Cruz High but was moved to fifth due to the tiebreaker (based on the placement of the sixth runner on the team). Last year, the team placed 8th in CCS Finals. The winner of the meet was Noelle Diep from El Camino High School with a time of 18:42.57, and the team that placed first was St. Ignatius College Prep.

For team captain Zhou, the small moments between team members in the meet was what made it so special. The team morale was boosted by the motivated runners encouraging each other to achieve new heights. 

“I feel like in general we all encouraged one another no matter how small it was through high fives and pep talks,” Zhou said. “Overall, we genuinely wanted each other to do well.”

This attitude was not unique to the CCS Finals race — the team overall had a huge morale boost from previous years. Zhou attributes this motivation to the influx of driven freshmen and sophomore runners helped to push the team to improve themselves. She felt that runners were complaining less this year and were more determined to improve.  

“I could tell whenever I came to practice that they were ready to run and get better,” Zhou said. “I saw that whenever a runner saw their time at a meet or even from a track workout, they were determined to beat their time and do better than earlier. 

For Tan, the season was a great experience and she loved bonding with the athletes over running. Tan said she believed she could have performed better at CCS, but was glad for the opportunity regardless. For her, the highlight of the meet came after running when she was able to relax with her teammates.

Tan also felt that the team performance was improved by the work of the team’s coach, Danny Moon, who strives to create a positive atmosphere that allows runners to motivate themselves to achieve new heights. Moon’s strategy for coaching is to work with runners, but not push them to the point of injury or not liking the sport. 

“He is very supportive and always wants us to improve and creates a stress-free environment,” Tan said. “I think his style of coaching makes the team a safe and happy place.”


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