At a glance, the performance of the Carson High School girls at the Northern 4A Cross Country Championships last Friday didn't quite measure up to what they had done the year before.
Remember, the Senators won regional and state team championships in 2001, but they had five new faces on the starting line for the regional race last Friday at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. So it was not surprising to see Reno, a team that is unbeaten in Nevada this season, outdistance Carson by a 24-66 margin to win the team title.
But when Carson assistant coach Penny Sparks compared times from 2001, she was surprised at what she saw. Even though the Senators had lost by a wide margin, they had actually run faster than they did in winning the state championship.
And that news came as a boost to the Senators as they went through their last week of practice to prepare for the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships, which will be run Saturday at Veteran's Memorial Park in Boulder City.
"The girls are very motivated for this Saturday, especially after finding out they ran faster then last year's state championship team," Sparks said. "They are looking forward to racing the best in Nevada."
The state 4A girls race will feature a quality field that includes the top four finishers from last year's state meet. Christa Avena of Bishop Gorman is the defending champion, but finished second at the Sunset Region meet last week, 42 seconds behind Natasha Wicks of Cimarron-Memorial (18 minutes, 44 seconds). Reno's Collier Lawrence won the Northern 4A race last week in 18:57 to break her own course by nearly a full minute.
Carson senior Shanna Sparks, the 2000 state girls cross country champion, finished second in a fast 19:22. Sparks finished second at the state meet as a freshman in 1999, won it as a sophomore in Boulder City and finished 10th last year. She is looking forward to one more title shot on Saturday.
"Shanna is excited to run on the course she won state as a sophomore," coach Sparks said of her daughter. "She knows the race is going to be fast with Collier Lawrence and Natasha Wicks, but that makes her that much more excited. It's her last Carson high school cross country race so she is just going to go for it."
Sparks is the only senior on a young Carson squad that includes junior Janine Stone, sophomores Sheena Bonaldi and Amanda Benson and freshmen Tiffany Halen, Patty Capistrant and Kristin Neddenriep. The group ran a cumulative time last Friday of one hour, 46 minutes, 28 seconds. The 2001 state championship team ran 1:48:27 on the same Rancho San Rafael Park course last November.
On the boys side, Galena will try to defend its state team championship against a formidable field that includes Reno and Centennial. Galena packed five runners into the top 13 places to edge Reno by a slim 36-41 margin at last week's Northern 4A meet. The two rivals have gone back and forth all season and they will be joined Saturday by Centennial (Las Vegas), winner of the Sunset Regional championship by a 25-81 margin over Cheyenne last week. Sophomore Blake Schotzhauer won the race for Centennial in a time of 16:12 and the Bulldogs swept five of the top eight places (70 seconds separated their top five runners). Chaparral junior Patrick Swick, last year's state runner-up, won the Sunrise Region championship in 16:08. Reno junior Jonathan Cardenas won the Northern 4A Regional in a course record 16:39.