Zellman wins three-man duel Ukiah senior outruns Byers, Luna; Montgomery's Nacouzi cruises in girls' race By MICHAEL COIT THE PRESS DEMOCRAT Published: Friday, November 6, 2009 Photos by Crista Jeremiason/Press Democrat The fastest North Bay League cross country trio in a decade staged a stirring championship race Friday despite muddy trails, with Ukiah’s Andrew Zellman pulling away at the end. Zellman’s time was the third fastest recorded on the 3.05-mile Spring Lake Park course. Race favorite Reesey Byers, from Santa Rosa, and Piner’s Luis Luna followed, notching the ninth and tenth swiftest runs ever on the hilly Santa Rosa circuit — winning times most years. “If it would have been dry, it would have been faster,” Zellman said. The only question for the NBL girls was how fast Julie Nacouzi would go, and the Montgomery runner’s winning time tied for eighth best ever at Spring Lake. Nacouzi has dramatically improved her times, and finishing more than a minute ahead of the field, she drove herself as if a state title was at stake. “If I want to do well, I know it is possible because I am stronger than last year,” she said. The North Coast Section meet at Hayward in two weeks provides another tuneup for the region’s top runners and teams seeking spots in the California state championships in Fresno a week later. Weather can play a significant factor in these meets as California’s rainy season hits. While gray clouds gave way to patches of blue sky Friday afternoon, 24 hours of rain left enough puddles and mud to make runners more cautious in spots. Coaches figured the slippery stretches added some 10 seconds or more to finishing times. Still, the top seven boys broke 16 minutes, typically the cutoff for the record books. The leading trio roused memories of the famed 1998 NBL championship when the course’s three best times were set. “I think they’re maybe even a little bit better,” said Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche of this year’s top runners. “That was fun,” said Piner coach Luis Rosales. “I think there’s more depth this year. It’s pretty darn good.” Going into the meet, Byers had the season’s best time on the course and the fourth best ever at 15:06. But Luna was just 20 seconds behind, and had beaten Zellman, who had beaten Byers in earlier races. Byers went out hard at the start and held the lead past the two-thirds mark. But Zellman was on his heels and Luna was lurking. Cardinal Newman’s Brian King also was in the hunt. Then Byers slipped and took a fall, bloodying a knee, as Zellman was finding a faster gear to ultimately win by 12 seconds in 15:05. The time was more than half a minute faster than his NBL finals race a year ago. “He definitely went out hard. But I’m definitely stronger. I felt really confident,” said the Ukiah senior. Although disappointed in the result, Byers, also a senior, was pleased with his effort. “I just wanted to finish my last league finals well,” he said. “I’m actually really looking forward to NCS and state. Hopefully I can do better.” Showing true sportsmanship, the pair took a cool down run together. Third place wasn’t Luna’s goal, but he improved his best time on the course by 6 seconds. A sophomore, Luna should be the league favorite next year. “I just need to work on my speed and more miles,” he said. Rounding out the top five were seniors King, who clocked 15:35, and Gus Greenstein of Maria Carrillo, 9 seconds behind him.While the NBL boys have battled, Nacouzi has used league meets to create training challenges because no runners could push her. Sometimes she attacks hills, or runs very hard for stretches, said Montgomery coach Val Sell. Friday the junior ran imagining Casa Grande great Jacque Taylor was on her heels. Nacouzi took a second off her personal best at Spring Lake, finishing in 17:24. “I was trying to get within 10 seconds of my best time because of the mud, so it worked out,” she said. “I think there’s a chance I can go faster.” Maria Carrillo swept the next three places, with senior twins Lauren and Cara Curtin and freshman Lauren Kraus. Hunter Connell, a Montgomery senior, was fifth.