DEWEY FORGET
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Doug Courtemarche is a patient man, and more than a little
optimistic. The Santa Rosa cross country coach had been waiting nearly 15
years for a North Bay League championship.
On Friday afternoon, Courtemarche watched his boys’ team conquer the
3.05-mile Spring Lake course and complete an undefeated league season for
the Panthers’ first outright championship since 1994.
During that stretch Santa Rosa shared a couple of titles with Ukiah, but
the coveted no-strings-attached championship had eluded them. For
Courtemarche, who has been the cross country coach for 17 years, it was
well worth the wait.
Courtemarche said he knew this could be the year. However, he also
understood that wresting the title away from five-year defending champ
Maria Carrillo would not be easy.
Courtemarche’s intuition was further endorsed when the Panthers came from
behind to defeat Carrillo in a first-place showdown in a dual league meet.
“We were behind, but we were strong at the end. I thought we would be able
to out-kick them and we did,” he said.
Led by senior Rory McLeod, the Panthers ran a cumulative time of 81:59 (42
points) to defeat second-place Carrillo (84:06, 62 points) and Montgomery
(85:25, 84 points). Piner (101) was fourth, followed by Ukiah (113), Rancho
Cotate (144), Cardinal Newman (165) and Elsie Allen (248).
McLeod’s 15:30 was good enough to easily defeat second-place finisher Aria
Kiani (15:42) of Montgomery. Reese Byers (Santa Rosa) ran 15:50 for third
with Maria Carrillo’s Grant Williams (15:54) fourth. Santa Rosa is ranked
second in the North Coast Section Division II behind De La Salle.
For McLeod it was the culmination of a long and arduous trip that began his
freshman year.
“Rory has always had it. He came in from middle school much-heralded,” said
Courtemarche, who explained that a non-pressure regimen was designed for
McLeod to bring him along slowly with the big picture in mind. “He hit a
growth spurt his freshman year. I’m convinced it set him back; he had to
catch up with his body. He did that last year when he came into his own in
track.
“He has learned to relax; he’s much more confident. He knows how to pace
himself so he doesn’t go too fast early and run the risk of blowing up in
the final mile. He and Jason Petersen are team captains. Rory is quiet, but
he is definitely a team leader.”
McLeod said he wanted to establish a personal best in the league meet, and
maybe even run a sub-15:00. His best time at Spring Lake is 15:15.
“I wasn’t real happy with my time,” McLeod said. “But the team score is
more important. It’s been a good year for the guys. We’ve been running
together for four years, pointing to this. We’re hoping to qualify for
state.”
If there is anything close to a dynasty in Redwood Empire running, it has
to be the Maria Carrillo girls, who entered the NBL championship riding a
77-meet win streak. It was more of the same Friday.
The Pumas took their sixth consecutive league title with 31 points,
defeating Montgomery (46) and Santa Rosa (61). Ursuline (88) was fourth
with Piner (157) fifth. Carrillo is ranked fifth in California in Division
III and first in the North Coast Section.
While the Pumas were running away with the team title, Montgomery senior
Celeste Berg made her last appearance at Spring Lake memorable, running
18:16 to outdistance teammate Julie Nacouzi (18:26) and Carrillo’s Jordan
Davis (18:52) to pick up the individual championship hardware.
Berg wasted little time taking control of the proceedings, run in
unseasonably hot weather. She was running well within herself after one
mile with a comfortable lead over sophomore Nacouzi, increasing her
advantage at every checkpoint.
“I love running in hot weather,” she said. “I’ve run some of my best times
when it’s hot, like last year at NCS when it was probably 94. And I really
love this course. It has a good surface; not too hilly and not too flat.
Plus, it really helps that this is our home course.”
Berg, a seasoned four-year runner, recognized quickly that anyone lagging
in mid-pack would have a difficult time catching the front-runners.
“I wanted to go out conservatively, but the pace was slow, so I took the
lead around one mile. No one went with me,” said Berg, who anticipated a
ding-dong battle on the front end with Carrillo’s Lauren Curtin. “I think
she (Curtin) might have had an off day. I’ve been out-kicked by her
before.”
Curtin finished sixth, and her twin, Cara, ninth. Carrillo had five of the
first 10 finishers, including Davis, who ran a solid third. Santa Rosa’s
Suzi Rozga was fourth with Kelly O’Leary (Carrillo) fifth.