RENO - Even though Shanna Sparks didn't feel she was at her best, the Carson High School sophomore had enough to run away with her second individual gold medal in as many years at the Northern 4A Regional Cross Country Championships on Thursday.
Sparks led virtually wire-to-wire en route to her victory, a performance that helped Carson finish second behind Reno in the team standings on an overcast and damp afternoon at Rancho San Rafael Park.
Reno packed three runners into the top 10 to capture the team title with a 51-point total, while Carson edged South Tahoe 63-64 for the second spot. All three teams qualified for the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Cross Country Championships next Saturday at newly opened Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City.
Sparks ran the hill-lined 5,000-meter (3.1 miles) course in a time of 20 minutes, 3 seconds, followed by South Tahoe freshman Amber Ramos with a 20:39 clocking. The 36-second margin of victory was impressive, although less than the margin of 76 seconds she enjoyed as a freshman last year.
Sparks merely rolled her eyes when asked about her performance on Friday.
"I felt really tired, even on the downhills," she said. "But I was glad to win. I'd like to come back next week at state and get my p.r. (personal record for 5,000 meters). The course is supposed to be fast, so I'd like to break 18 (minutes)."
Even though the Senators fell short in their bid for a team championship, coach Jason Macy was upbeat afterward. And he pointed out they still have one more week to go.
"Obviously, we were really pleased with Shanna, and the team as a whole ran well," Macy said. "Reno beat us at zone last year and then we came back to get them the next week at state; we'd like to do that again."
The Senators won some individual battles to pull out their one-point verdict over South Tahoe. Sarah Shaw (22:07) finished 11th and Megan Zahnter (22:15) held off a charge down the home stretch by South Tahoe's Erica Zampardo to finish 12th. Freshmen Lindsay Dorio was 16th (22:47) and Cassia Roth 23rd (23:24) to round out Carson's scoring.
Three other Carson Country runners earned individual invitations to the state meet: Douglas sophomore Taryn Joyce-Mendive was fourth (21:13), while Galena's Julie Hinton (21:32) and Abby Parker (21:34) finished sixth and seventh respectively.
On the boys side, Daryl Nourse ran to second-place as an individual but it wasn't enough to lead Carson to the top-three finish needed to qualify for state as a team. The Senators finished fifth with 124 points. Reno cruised to the team title with 32 points, South Tahoe was second with 65 points and Galena edged Douglas for the third spot, 89-99.
Nourse did earn a ticket to state as an individual thanks to his 17:42 effort. Reno's Dan Wolf won the race in 17:14. Chad Sanada of Galena was right behind Nourse in third with a time of 17:46.
"We're disappointed we didn't make it as a team, and I wanted to win the race, but you can't win them all," Nourse said. "I felt pretty good today. I just wasn't able to keep up with Wolf on the downhill. He has so much speed, he loses me on the downhills, but hopefully, on a flatter course, I can take a shot at him."
Sanada lost his duel for second-place with Nourse, but the Galena senior couldn't have been happier when he found out the Grizzlies had grabbed third-place to qualify for state as a team.
"We're thrilled. Beating teams like Carson and Douglas, we haven't done that all season," said Sanada, who was part of Galena's state-qualifying team as a freshman in 1997. "My time was 20 seconds faster than last week on this same course, and so was everybody else. Everybody on the team did their part today."
Junior Tim Koepsell finished 16th (18:34), senior Joe Bentel was 18th (18:38) and sophomore Geoff Casazza 20th (18:47) to aid the Galena effort. Sophomore Erik Hertel was 32nd (19:21) to round out the Grizzlies' scoring.
Douglas junior Robby Miller, a 14th-place finisher at his state meet in Washington last year, ran 17:48 to finish fourth and earn an individual ticket to state. Mike Hackler also earned an individual state berth with his 15th-place run of 18:26.
Sophomore Andrew Pederson finished 27th (19:08), freshman Jeffrey Martin 28th (19:14), senior Jeff Young 31st (19:18) and sophomore Justin Barber 36th (19:31) to complete Carson's scoring.
Reno gained control early, as the Huskies occupied five of the top six places 1,000 meters into the race. In the end, Reno had all five of its scoring runners in the top 11 while dethroning the defending conference champion Vikings.
"Reno did an awesome job today. They just came out and put the hammer down right from the start," South Tahoe coach Dominique Westlake said. "That's their style, to go out fast. We wanted to pace ourselves early and then see if they'd come back to us. That's what happened last year. Today, they didn't come back to us."
Three South Tahoe runners still cracked the top 10 and had all five scoring runners finish 47 seconds apart. Sophomore Chris Cosmi's paced the Vikings with his seventh-place effort of 18:04. Senior Manuel Lomeli was only a few strides behind in eighth (18:07) and sophomore Derrick Giannoni was 10th (18:13). Sophomores Sean Pawling (18:41) and Hudson Wilvers (18:47) were 19th and 21st respectively.
In the girls race, Michel St. Marin finished 10th (22:04), Erica Zampardo 13th (22:16), Caitlin Robinson 18th (22:54) and Cecilia Cuevas 21st (23:01) to round out South Tahoe's top five.