Yosemite High School sophomores Jessica Fine and Rose Curley placed first and third Oct. 25 in the sophomore D-III division of the largest high school cross country meet in the county the grueling Mount San Antonio College Invitational in Walnut.
More than 600 schools and 22,000 runners competed in the two-day event, with races going off every seven minutes for seven straight hours each day.
The course, with three 'killer' hills, is respectfully referred to as a "monument to masochism," according to coach Ellen Peterson.
Close to 200 sophomore runners from schools throughout California were in the three-mile race and Fine captured the first place medal with a time of 20:53. Teammate Curley placed third, just 24 second behind Fine with a time of 21:17.
The 5-foot-8 1/2, 120 pound Fine said it was really crowded at the start of the race which made it hard to pull away from the pack.
"At about a quarter mile into the race, I started to pull away and got into the lead group of about 10 runners," Fine said.
It was about a half mile into the race that Fine had moved into the lead.
"I knew if I slowed down, the runners behind me would catch me, so on the downhill portions of the race I would go as fast as I could to keep my lead," Fine said. "By keeping the lead, it allowed me to not have to run as hard on the steep uphill portions of the course."
"I actually thought Jessica was in another race because when IU looked up she was so far ahead of everyone," Peterson said.
One may wonder what drives a talented cross country runner to compete at such a high level in one of the most prestigious high school races in the country "I was really thinking how bad I wanted to get the race over, because I had donuts waiting for me in my backpack at the finish line," Fine said.
Although she was proud of her first place finish, Fine was more excited about the overall experience to compete in the Mount Sac event with her friends.
"I'm big on high school memories and this trip to Mount Sac is one of the best high school memories I've had so far," Fine said.
Curley finishes third
Curley said she was nervous before the race but once the race started she was determined to finish in the top 20. She had a slow start, finding herself in the middle of the pack at the one-mile mark.
"That's when I realized I had to work harder and pick-up my pace to catch a lot of the runners."
And pick-up the pace is what she did, finding herself in fourth place at the two-mile mark.
"Although she had a good lead, I could see Jessica and two other girls ahead of me towards the end of the race," Curley said. "On the last hill I passed a runner to move into third place."
Curley said her legs were burning half way through the race due to the steep hills one known as "Poop Out."
"I was flying down the hills so fast I felt like I was going to fall because I had so much momentum going forward," Curley said. "The last hill was the hardest - it was long and steady. That's when I saw coach (Michael) Baird and he told me to pump my arms and that I was almost there. His encouragement helped me get to the top of the hill and allowed me to finish in third place."
Curley said she was shocked to finish in third.
"I did not expect that finish at such a large, highly competitive meet like Mount Sac."
Chamberlain places ninth
Another Yosemite sophomore, Natalie Chamberlain ran the course in 22:08, giving her an ninth place medal.
"There were three hills on that course and they were steeper than anything I've ever seen in a cross country race," Chamberlain said. "It was crazy hard I was so tired at the end of the race I thought I was going to die but it was pretty cool to finish ninth out of close to 200 runners."
The Badger girls team placed second out of the 35 schools in the division.
Simpson takes second
Yosemite's senior Alek Simpson placed second in the boy's D-III race with a time of 15:40, with nearly 200 runner behind him.
The 6-foot1, 150 pound Simpson took the lead in the race right from the start and held it for two and a half miles before seeing Jimmy Fitzgerald of Rio Meza pass him on the last down-hill stretch in the race.
"I was destroying every other runner in the race going uphill, but I'm not a great down-hill runner," Simpson said. "On the last down-hill stretch of the race, Fitzgerald went flying by me. I had less than a quarter mile to catch him but he had too big a lead on me."
Simpson finished nine seconds behind Fitzgerald and eight second ahead of third place finisher Christian Hernandez of Bishop Amat High.
"Alek set a torrid pace and ran a gutsy race," Peterson said.
Simpson, known as one of the hardest workers on the Badger team, finished 26th in the race last year and said 'confidence' is what is making a big difference in his results this year.
"My confidence has been huge for me this year ... I feel I can beat runners this year that I didn't think I could beat last year," Simpson said. "having more faith in myself and in my coaches has been huge this year."
Yosemite took 61 runners to the event, the most ever, and every runner had a personal best time at the race.
The team left the YHS parking lot at 3:30 a.m. Oct. 25, arrived in Southern California and ran in seven different races between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. After the races, the team was off to Magic Mountain till midnight then back on the bus, arriving home at 5 a.m. Sunday.
"Wherever our athletes go and whatever they choose for their future, they can always know that they attacked one of the toughest courses and competed successfully in the largest cross country meet in the world," coach Peterson said.
The Badgers competed in the North Sequoia League finals at Woodward Park yesterday (Wednesday). Results were not available at press time. The Central Section meet is Nov. 12 and Simpson thinks the Badger boys varsity team is strong enough to qualify for the Nov. 30 state meet at Woodward Park.
Simpson was 32nd in the state meet last year.
"My goal is to finish in the top 12 this year," Simpson said with confidence.