Nationally-ranked St. Francis-Sacramento girls cross country won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
The St. Francis High School girls cross country team is a close group. They hang out together, laugh together, run together, and win together.
“Our strength is the ‘Pack Attack,’” said junior Miranda Myers. “We all run real close together and have been working very hard together.”
The Troubadours’ pack mentality has been a trait taught by head coach John DuCray for years. But the cross country coaching veteran sees a singular focus and dedication in this year’s team that he has never seen before in his 30-plus years of training and teaching distance runners.
“This team is the most disciplined and dedicated group of girls I have coached,” DuCray said. “And it’s not just the top four or five runners, but all the way through. It’s 10-15 runners who are dedicated.
“What makes them special and shows the dedication is their offseason training. These girls are very good about staying with the program, they are great workers in practice, follow instructions well, and race really smart.”
Heading into the 2013 season, St. Francis was ranked No. 11 in the country by the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA), and was the second-ranked team from California. Among state schools, the Troubadours trail only Great Oak-Temecula, who won the CIF Division I team state title a year ago, one spot ahead of St. Francis.
DuCray returns four of his top-five finishers from the state meet while Great Oak also has four returning in 2013, setting up a potential rematch at the CIF Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
To a runner, the team insists that preseason rankings pale in comparison to its standing at the end of the season. The goal of improving themselves individually and as a team as the season progresses takes precedence over seeking a specific standing in the state or nation.
“As a team, we just want to do the best that we can,” said senior Lauren LaRocco, who is the Troubadours’ top returning runner. “Coach has a goal of getting five girls under 18 minutes in a 5-kilometer race, so we are not paying attention to rankings or standings.”
LaRocco was the Troubadours’ top finisher at the state meet with a 16th-place result, and she has led the group both off and on the course thus far in 2013. The senior has been the team’s top finisher in each of its three September races, including wins at the Ed Sias Invitational in Martinez and the Oakmont Invitational in Roseville to start the season.
Fellow senior Madison Rawson and juniors Miranda Myers and Camille Boudreaux have been among the top St. Francis runners early on and are expected to be key contributors throughout Delta River League, Sac-Joaquin Section and state meets. Junior Peyton Bilo, who was the Troubadours’ second-best finisher at the state meet last year (she finished 30th) is currently recovering from a stress fracture in her left leg, but should be a factor in November and December.
While Bilo heals, DuCray is confident that his deep roster will work and progress toward its peak in the postseason. He understands that the biggest races will come much later in the year, but that practices and races in September will play a large role in the team’s success in November.
“My Dad always said that if you do it in practice, then you will do it in a meet,” DuCray said of the Troubadours’ focus during training runs, “So cross your T’s and dot your I’s in practice.”
DuCray has always assessed and re-evaluated his training methods with the help of books and seminars authored by experts and racing legends. He credits the likes of Dr. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula and distance superstar Alberto Salazar, among others, for his current regimen for the St. Francis squad.
“I have tweaked my training to get more bang for the buck,” the veteran coach said. “My biggest dilemma has always been how many miles do I run these girls every week. I have come to a happy medium, thinking that 42-50 miles per week for the top groups seems to really do well and leads to running well at a State level.”
In the end, that is what the Troubadours’ are training for — a strong showing at the state meet. With the runner-up finish in 2012 as motivation, St. Francis would love to finish one place higher. And DuCray believes that this group of runners can reach that goal.
“We believe that we can win the league championship every year, and the last few years, it has been a fair goal to go after the section championship,” DuCray said. “With our second-place finish at State last year and four of our top five runners back from that team, along with some good young ladies trying to get up there, we can legitimately think about a State championship.
“We have the talent, we are in the hunt, it’s a legitimate goal.”
The individual talents of runners like LaRocco, Rawson, Myers, Boudreaux, and Bilo can carry St. Francis to an unprecedented state championship. But the Troubadours’ pack mentality will determine just how great their achievements will be in 2013.
“Being a team is our greatest strength,” said Rawson. “We all help each other stay positive, and that goes beyond the varsity team to the entire program.
“The pack always stays together and encourages one another.”
The Troubadours’ ultimate team goal—for a full pack of five runners to cross the finish line under 18:00—may seem lofty, but the runners see it as the accomplishment of numerous individual goals supported by the entire team unit.
“If everyone has their personal goals, then it will move the team goals,” LaRocco said. “I just want to be better than last year, so if I can improve, then the whole team can be better.”
Myers echoed the sentiment.
“It’s easy to work toward my personal goals because the team helps me achieve those goals by pushing me to be better.”
A better St. Francis team is a scary proposition for league and section foes hopeful to outrun the defending-champion Troubadours. It’s also an inspirational proposition for the close-knit pack to run faster and win more — together.
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