WATSONVILLE — Clare Peabody did not know how her team was doing when she crossed the finish line in second place, but when she looked back she saw a sea of blue runners and a wide smile came to her face.
The Aptos Mariners girl’s cross country team dominated the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League final meet with a score of 32 to win their ninth league title in the past 11 years Thursday afternoon at Pinto Lake County Park.
“I’m proud of my team,” said Peabody, who recorded a personal best time of 17 minutes, and 27 seconds Thursday. “When I finished and looked back I just saw Aptos six, seven, eight, nine. It was a great moment.”
After sitting out last week’s dual meet against San Lorenzo Valley, Aptos’ top competition for the league title, because of a tweaked muscle in her right leg, Peabody said that she was antsy to get on the 2.95-mile Watsonville course, but she was forced to take it easy by her coach Dan Gruber.
“I’m elated,” the senior said. “I don’t like sitting out, but (Gruber) made the right decision. I’m really happy that I was able to come out and do well.”
But the Mariners, SCCAL and Central Coast Section D-III champions from a year ago, didn’t just get a great performance from their senior leader.
After a mixed group in the top five which included Santa Cruz’s Cate Ratliff in third, SLV’s Claire Macmillan in fourth and Scotts Valley’s Valerie Morrison in fifth, Aptos filled the next four slots with their young runners.
Matti Peoples was sixth (18:18), Annika Mcbride was seventh (18:26), Yulisa Abundis was eighth (18:35) and Olivia Quinn finished ninth (18:36).
“The team amazed me,” Gruber said. “They came and they competed. Every spot where they needed to step up they did. I couldn’t be more proud of how they all performed, but it takes a team as good San Lorenzo Valley to push them.”
The Cougars came into Thursday’s meet as the No. 1 ranked Division IV team in the state, and fresh off a win over the Mariners just a week ago.
In that win Maxwell set a new course record, which she shattered by running 17 seconds faster Thursday.
She crossed the finish line at a blistering 16:30, and never trailed during the race.
“Anna’s always tough,” Gruber said. “She’s a tough runner. She stays on pace and she keeps pushing. It’s been great to watch this kind of talent these past years.”
But the top five finishes from Maxwell and MacMillan were not enough to knock off the Mariners, and Peabody and company walked away with back-to-back titles.
“Last season was tough,” said Peabody, referring to the struggle she went through last season with her health. “It’s a big relief that I ran this way especially in my senior year. I’m going to be walking away with three league titles.”
But the season is not over yet.
Aptos will continue their year with a trip to Belmont to compete in the CCS finals at Crystal Springs to try and win their fourth section title in five years.
“I feel confident,” Peabody said. “We know we’re going to have to step up, but we can do it.”
They won’t be the only locals making the trip, however.
St. Francis Central Coast Catholic qualified as the only D-V squad in the SCCAL.
Cati Bianchi was the top Sharks finisher at 21:33.
Scotts Valley finished third and Santa Cruz came in fourth. Both of them will join Aptos, SLV and St. Francis C.C.C. at Crystal Springs Nov. 16.
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