CARLSBAD — Last year was a first in school history, now the powerful Sage Creek High School girls cross country team has its sights set on a second consecutive CIF Division IV state title and more.
The Bobcats return a stacked lineup of runners, a group ranked sixth overall in the state regardless of classification. The talent and drive are one reason coach Jacob Fering has not only aimed at back-to-back state championships, but also a berth in the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon.
Sage Creek returns six of its top seven runners including its top five scorers from last year’s state championship meet, where they finished nine points better than runner-up Foothill Technology and 83 points ahead of third-place El Segundo.
“It’s pretty unheard of,” Fering, a two-time Southern California cross-country coach of the year, said of his returning lineup. “We have a few freshmen in the mix adding depth.”
The Bobcats are led by senior Skyler Wallace, who finished third at state 6 seconds behind the winner, senior Lavanya Pandey (placed 15th), sophomore Stormy Wallace (Skyler’s sister, who placed sixth) and junior Natalie Huestis (60th) and junior Elizabeth Gerhardt (64th).
Additionally, Fering said he has an elite freshman, Malia Leupold, along with another handful of runners who will battle for the sixth and seventh spots each week. In cross-country, only seven runners are allowed per varsity race and the top five score.
The girls are focused and preparing for their first meet Sept. 20. Fering said he typically starts late as nine or more races per year are too much pounding for runners. Racing less means they peak and are fresher at the end of the season.
“I think we are setting the bar high,” he said of the team’s success. “I think that momentum has really carried us. The girls have bought into that vision of being the best D4 team in state history.”
And while the Bobcats are focused on the season, they are hard at work to become one of the top two fastest teams in the state and qualify for Nike Cross Nationals. The Nike is a national event pitting the fastest high school teams across the country against each other.
Fering said no D4 team has reached the pinnacle of high school cross-country, which is why his squad is determined to become the first. However, the first goal is to repeat as state champs by improving and getting faster each week.
And how they are getting there is by putting in work, whether it’s drills on the field, core muscle exercises, speed and endurance and, of course, getting in their miles. The little things, Fering said, add up.
“Each year we have a new goal we’re shooting for,” Skyler Wallace said. “Having a new goal, which seems to be getting bigger each year, keeps us still lively and wanting to compete.”
Stormy Wallace, meanwhile, said she’s able to relate to the freshmen and get them comfortable with the team, the girls and the expectations.
As for their coach, she and Pandey said Fering is patient and relates to the athletes to get the best out of them. But the expectations, Pandey said, come with the territory and the team embraces them.
“I feel one good thing about our team is the expectations come from ourselves,” she added. “All the energy comes from within and we all feed off each other. I think it escalates and comes from grassroots.”