Vikings in running for zone championship |

Vikings in running for zone championship

Steve Yingling

This is it.

Hours of side-aching foot pounding up Humongous Hill in the woods behind South Tahoe High and around the heights of Zephyr Cove won’t seem worthwhile if the Warriors and Vikings don’t accomplish their goals today at their respective zone cross county meets.

With a late-season surge, the surprising Vikings girls appear capable of qualifying for next week’s state meet, while the Viking boys have been consistently good throughout the season and are a definite title contender. Only the first four teams and the top five individuals from nonqualifying teams at today’s championships at Rancho San Rafael County Park in Reno advance to state.

Behind senior Launa Giordano and a solid core of freshmen, the Viking girls are entering zone on a running high.

“We’re excited. We want to go to Las Vegas this year. This is my last chance,” said Giordano after winning last week’s home meet by a second over freshman teammate Marin St. Michel.

First-year coach Kathy Breidenbach has methodically built the confidence of her young contingent of runners, and qualifying for state has become an attainable goal late in their season.

“In their minds now they realize how good they are. They all really want to make state, and they know how close they are,” Breidenbach said.

Douglas is a prohibitive favorite to win the girls zone championship, but South Tahoe and four other schools have legitimate shots at second place.

“Our focus is on Reno, McQueen, Carson and Reed. At first, we didn’t think we were there with them, and now we know we’re right at their level,” Breidenbach said.

Veteran coach Dominique Westlake also has a young squad led by sophomore sensation Manuel Lomeli. Lomeli has won two races this fall and is one of the prerace favorites, but teammates Russell Grant, Travis Moore, Grant Carter, Cory Martin, Steven Moore and Jeff Cosmi must produce high results if the Vikings are to win the zone championship and make their third trip to state in four years.

The Vikings’ main obstacle will be the Reno Huskies, who can potentially place at least three runners in the top 10. At the STHS meet last week, Reno’s top three runners filled the third, fourth and fifth spots as the Huskies squeaked past the Vikings by seven points. It’s a pack that Westlake knows must be broken apart.

“People who say this isn’t a team sport are wrong because every individual you have is going to help you score,” Westlake said. “The guys know we have to run with Reno to win this thing. Every guy has a race plan, which is to run from the front like Reno does. I’d like our guys to run within touching distance of Manuel because he runs a very smart race and is a very savvy racer for only being a sophomore.”

Many of the league’s 13 teams go into the race after an eight-day layoff.

“They’re pretty feisty like race horses. You keep them in the stall too long they get too much energy. We want to pop a good one today. It’s not like we have to run spectacular and Reno has to run a bad race. We just need to run smart,” Westlake said.

Racing begins at 3:15 for the boys, while the girls are scheduled to toe the line at 3:45 p.m.

For Whittell, which started the season with only one interested runner, today’s Nevada 3A Division II championships at the Dayton State Park in Dayton is an opportunity to continue a remarkable turnaround in the school’s attitude and aptitude toward the sport.

“We had a fantastic season based on the original turnout, going from five runners last year to one runner starting this season to 15 now,” said Whittell coach Anthony Davis. “Realistically, we will have several athletes who can qualify for state. We will represent Whittell cross country at state, whether it’s one runner or two teams.”

Whittell’s state hopefuls include Ben Johnson, Chad Gerken and Nichole Wasson. To date, Johnson and Gerken have posted 3-mile best times of 19 minutes and 30 seconds and 19:36, respectively. Wasson, who twisted a knee at the final regular season race at Kingsbury Middle School last week, is healthy enough to race today, but Davis is uncertain of how she’ll perform.

“She has missed some key practices due to the injury, but we hope she’ll do real well,” Davis said.

Other Warriors to watch are Mike DeLeon and Arlyle Shaw.

The varsity girls race is set for 3 p.m., with the boys race to follow at 3:45 p.m. Only the first- and second-place teams and the top five individuals from nonqualifying teams will make the trip to the state meet Nov. 7 at Indian Springs.

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