St. Margaret's girls cross country entered the 2023 CIF Championships as the top seed in Division 5 and proved that they deserved every bit of that respect by earning an 11-point victory over second-place Thatcher. The win was the third CIF title for the team in the past five years (no championship race was conducted in 2020 because of the pandemic). In addition, the accomplishment helped the Tartans advance to the California State Championships for the 7th consecutive time.
"We have been battling injury and illness all season, and then the weather became an added variable this week," head coach Patrick Bendzick said. "The poise and confidence it took for them to pull this off was extraordinary."
A winter storm entered the Southern California area on Wednesday, and the meet management made the difficult decision of switching to the rain course on Friday in anticipation of unsafe conditions on the traditional course. This significantly altered race strategy for all the teams as the terrain went from challenging hills on a dirt path to virtually flat on paved roads.
"The rain course does not necessarily fit our style of racing, but I am proud of how both teams simply accepted the change as just another variable they needed to overcome," said Bendzick.
Led by Joyce Li's second-place finish, the Tartans put themselves in contention from the start. Li and Sarah Bendzick went straight to the front, challenging the pace of the field and pulling their teammates into position. From there, Coco Johnson and Catherine Pappas picked up 10 and 25 spots, respectively, by the 2-mile mark to give St. Margaret's control of the race and the eventual win.
"Coco has been such a tremendous leader both on the course and in every practice," said coach Bendzick. "She has a huge heart, and it manifests itself in an amazing level of care for her teammates and an unwavering willingness to do the difficult work required in the middle of a race to ensure the team is successful."
Li, Bendzick, and Johnson finished in the top 15 and were named All-CIF as a result.
The boys team also kept their seven-year streak of qualifying for the state championships alive by finishing 6th in a very tight race. Only six points separated the 4th through 6th place teams, and the Tartans battled the entire way through.
Senior Everett Capelle found the awards podium again, just like he has done all season, finishing second with a hard-charging second half, but just didn't have enough racecourse remaining to close in on the lead. He was named All-CIF for the third time in his career.
The pack of Jared Botuchis, Riley Harrison, Ben Harrison, Evan Causee, and Zach Causee linked up well from the beginning and finished with just 4 seconds separating the five.
"This is a fairly young group and a racecourse like this takes a great deal of foot speed and muscular power to navigate," noted coach Bendzick. "They fought from the start and came up a bit short of their goal but displayed all the intangibles needed for a very bright future. I couldn't be more proud of them, and they are a wonderful group to coach."
The Tartans will be hard at work over the Thanksgiving break preparing for the California State Championships next Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno.Click here
for photos from the boys race.Click here
for photos from the girls race.Click here
for athlete interviews.