A look back on girls cross country’s record-shattering season


Courtesy Hailey Knauss

Los Altos leads the pack at the first SCVAL meet.

The Los Altos High School varsity girls cross country team made history last year with a second place finish at CCS and qualification for the state championships — the first time in the team’s history. With strong talent from both veteran runners and underclassmen, the team was ready to break new records and make more history. But what actually happened reached far beyond everyone’s expectations.

The team ended the regular season with a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL) clean sweep, won CCS, won the Division 2 state championships and qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN), finishing 19th in the entire nation.

“When we started the season, we were just hoping to win CCS,” Head Coach Steph MacKenzie said. “So it was a big surprise to actually be able to win the state meet and make it to Nationals.”

“I didn’t really expect the season to go like this,” freshman Lydia Anderson said. “When our coach sat us down and took a look at the stats with us, and was like, ‘guys, we could go to states and if we did well there, we could go to nationals,’ my mind was completely blown.”

Winning and success marked the start of the season, with the team’s first-place finish at the Lowell invitation, where last year’s team had placed third. However, this meet also kicked off a series of hurdles that the team would have to push to overcome — a season ending overuse injury to one of the team’s top runners, senior Ella Fadil.

“It was really hard losing Ella, because this team would’ve been unbelievable if we’d had her.” MacKenzie said. “But it’s just kind of the way this sport goes. Injuries happen.”

The second meet of the season was the De La Salle invitational, where again, last year’s team placed third. With the team securing another big victory, it was seemingly a sign for good results to come as these wins were not just out of luck.

“It’s consistency that got us to where we got, because you cannot just build a team like this in a week,” junior Jasleen Sidhu said. “We’ve been training since June, so it was months of putting in around two hours of work every day to get ready.”

As the season progressed, the victories kept on coming. The first two league meets — where last year’s team was twice edged out into second place by Los Gatos High School — finished with resounding Los Altos victories. Senior Lauren Soobrian was the first to cross the finish line in both, and the rest of the five Los Altos scoring places were within the top ten times. The real test, however, was the yearly Clovis Invitational.

“Clovis is basically the pre-state meet,” MacKenzie said. “It’s on the same course as the state meet, so everybody goes to preview the course and to face the best competition. It’s the most competitive invite in California.”

Last year at Clovis, the team placed a modest 14th place. It was expected that Los Altos would do well this year after the strong start to the season, but a victory was not guaranteed. Though the first person to cross the line was not a Los Altos athlete, the consistent and tight placing of the team made it so LAHS finished 30 points ahead of the second and third place teams — a dominant first-place finish.

“Winning Clovis was kind of a shock to us,” Lydia said.

“At the beginning of the season, we were just looking forward to Clovis and the state meet,” Lauren said. “We weren’t really sure that we were going to qualify for NXN, but after the wins, we had that on the horizon as one of our big goals for the season.”

Following Clovis, the team finished the remaining SCVAL races in dominant fashion. They clinched victories in the final regular-season meets, and went on to win the SCVAL finals. However, the next meet could have very well ended that winning streak. It was the state meet, and on top of the pressure, the team was faced with another injury to a star runner.

“The team was really healthy all season, and then Lauren’s shin injury crept up, right at the state meet,” MacKenzie said. “It’s always a challenge because to be a top-level team, you have to work on the edge. Everyone’s pushing themselves hard, but we also need to make sure they get all the rest and recovery they need.”

“My injury made it so that I wasn’t 100 percent going into the state meet,” Lauren said. “But I knew qualifying for NXN was one of the goals we set out, so I ran.”

But, this team wasn’t one to be easily pushed over. Even with the injury, the team held strong. In a similar finish to Clovis, the team’s consistent pacing and tight grouping, the team was able to have the lowest overall score. And since cross country is scored like golf, the team had accomplished what no Los Altos cross country team — girls or boys — had ever done. They won the state championship.

“We improved by running together more and pushing each other to be better, but a really big thing was dealing with pressure,” Jazleen said. “By the end of the season, we were able to control our nerves and still perform really well, even with all the nerves at the state meet. Three of us ran [our best times], and to be able to do that at the state meet with all the pressure is really hard.”

“Early season, the team was broken up, running in twos and threes instead of together as a big pack,” MacKenzie said. “I had to have a word with them and say, ‘Look, if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this as a team,’ and they did. By the end of the season, they’re all really, really close. And it just helps when you’re out there racing.”

After the victory at states, the next step was nationals. Going into NXN, it wasn’t looking too great. The weather was near freezing, the terrain was damp and Lauren’s injury had gotten worse such that she couldn’t compete. On top of that, due to the cold, Lydia had an asthma attack and after finishing the race had to get medical attention. Despite all the hardships, the team pushed on and placed a respectable 19th overall.

The season was a huge success. And even with all of the victories, when asked what their favorite part of the season was, all of the runners’ answers had a lot to do with the team.

“My favorite memory would definitely be nationals, and the whole trip to Oregon,” freshman Emma Beedon said. “It just felt incredible just to get to that point. Everything we did there was just so much fun, and it was so great to be with my teammates and just get to experience something we’ve never been able to do before.”

“We had this long run called the three peaks challenge, where our coach gave us three random hills, and we had to find the shortest way between them,” Jasleen said. “It was my favorite part because it was being together with such a great group of girls for two hours and just to have fun together. Long runs arе just fun. Like you get to just run. And I know that might sound weird, but you just run and we just get to be together and not really have to stress about winning.”

“People think cross country is an individual sport, and it isn’t at all,” MacKenzie said. “The team is so important. When you’re out there racing, when you wanna give up and you don’t wanna kick in the final 200 meters, you know that your teammates are depending on you. So if you’re part of a team, you go for the team instead of just for yourself.”