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CIF Victory: freshman standout takes first in impressive debut

Cross country concludes with successful season
Benson Elbert
The Cross Country Boy’s Team prays minutes before the start of their race. In the picture, lead runners, Freshman Blake Bay, and Junior Jacob Pimentel’s backs are closest to the camera.

On the memorable Thursday of November 16, 2023, both the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams eagerly descended upon the sectional meet—the CIF Valleys. In a fierce competition involving 31 schools for Division 5, athletes sought the coveted opportunity to advance to the state meet scheduled for the following week.

Up to five runners with the most impressive and lowest times who also finish in the top 12 overall secure a spot in the State meet, while the two schools achieving the lowest scores altogether (similar to golf, where lower scores are preferable) automatically earn their place. The team scores are determined by summing the rankings of the top five runners. This implies that those who qualify are assured a guaranteed invitation to the state competition due to their lower total scores.

Freshman Blake Bay takes the lead for the entire race. (Benson Elbert)

Amidst the picturesque setting, tents with the names of different schools dotted the park. Boys and girls from diverse schools engaged in pre-race rituals, stretching and quickly replenishing their energy with granola bars. Students, parents and coaches exuded a nervous excitement, fully aware that this momentous race was the results of their season-long dedication and preparation.

Junior Laina Penland radiated enthusiasm for the impending meet, acknowledging the collective hard work of the team and the formidable competition that lay ahead.

“There are a lot of great runners out here. But I think we have a really good shot, and I believe in our team,” Penland said.

Yosemite High School, a formidable contender projected to claim the top spot for the boys, and Immanuel for the girls, boasting a robust pack of runners, emerged as the Eagles’ principal adversaries. However, the Eagles put up a fierce fight towards all.

Junior Laina Penland traverses “Killer Hill,” one of the courses hardest obstacles. (Benson Elbert)

Woodward Park, the venue for this meet, also hosts the state championships on November 25, adding an extra layer of significance to the event. Woodward Park is known for its windy trails, tough hills and long course providing a challenge to all the runners.

Over the course of the fall season, the students participated in 10 whole races. Many observers stated that this season was their best yet, with the infusion of promising newcomers. In a surprising turn of events, Freshman Blake Bay, ’27, astounded everyone with his performance at the Woodbridge competition, completing 3.06 miles in a mere 15:45—exceeding expectations and injecting a new level of competitiveness and as only a freshman!

On the girls’ side, Julia Gray, ’26, consistently showcased exceptional performance, securing a position in the top ten in nearly every race. Notably, in the Northwest Sequoia League Championships held on November 6, she took second place with a time of 21 minutes and 36 seconds.

Bay and Gray not only met but exceeded expectations throughout the entire season and particularly at this meet, CIF Valleys. Fueled by their record-breaking performances, they are set to represent their school at the upcoming State Championships.

Julia Gray, ’26 runs past spectators on her way up a hill. (Benson Elbert)

In this meet, Gray secured twelfth place with a time of 21:32, earning qualification to compete at State. Gray took the lead for the girls’ team, guiding the way as the rest of the FC girls team followed closely behind.

While running, having someone to follow and track is always encouraging, and in this instance, Gray not only led the way but also offered continuous encouragement to the team as they pursued her. All together, the girls had a successful run, securing a commendable third-place finish as a team. While it may not have been sufficient to qualify for the state competition, their achievement still remains highly impressive.

Bay emerged triumphant in the Central Sectional Divisional Championships D5, securing first place with an impressive time of only sixteen minutes and eleven seconds. Bay maintained the lead throughout the entire race, with the other boys trailing behind him. As he sprinted past the Woodward Trail by the creek, where parents and coaches gathered along the course to cheer on their runners, Bay’s coaches could be heard shouting words of encouragement, “That’s Blake! Run, Blake, run!” The echoes of support lingered as Bay raced towards the challenging mountainous section of the course.

After conquering such a challenging course and enduring a long season, Bay felt a deep sense of gratitude as he crossed the finish line. “As I finished and the work was done, the words that left my mouth were thank you God,” Bay said.

Bay is not just a leader; he is humble, earning the admiration of both teammates and peers across campus. Bay’s accomplishments have generated excitement and pride, reinforcing his positive influence not only on the cross-country course but also within the school community.

Freshman Blake Bay thanks God after finishing his race and taking first. (Benson Elbert)

A big congratulations to the team who all ran their hardest. With a shout out to first time runner, Junior Jacob Pimentel who placed 14 in the 2023 CIF Central Section Cross Country Championships, only two spots away from qualifying! Hailey Higton also placed 14 in her division with Meghan Connolly who placed fifteenth. The entire team had a successful season and all anxiously await for next year. Next season their team captain, Junior Ian Palsgaard, will be back, fully recovered from injury and leading their talented new recruits. This team had an amazing season and has a very bright future.

A heartfelt thank you extends to all the parents, students, and athletes who graced these races with their presence. For students eager to explore spring or summer training opportunities, Coach Garcia as well as Coach Young welcome your interest!

Join us in cheering for Bay and Gray on November 25 as they compete in the State meet. The event will take place at Woodward Park.

To read more from the Feather visit [Podcast] FC EagleCast, Episode No. 2 – Scott Falk or Fall sports rally 2023.

For a wrap-up on the last cross country meet visit Wrap Up: Cross Country competes in League Championships.

For more on Fresno Christian Sports view the athletics page.

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About the Contributors
Chloe McDonald
Chloe McDonald, Editor
First-year journalist Chloe McDonald, ‘24, is excited to begin her writing journey with The Feather Online. Chloe values teamwork and helping the campus stay informed. Chloe enjoys art of all mediums and serving her school through leadership class, with all glory to God. In her free time, she can often be found painting, lifeguarding, or walking her dog.
Benson Elbert
Benson Elbert, Photojournalist
Benson Elbert, ‘26 is an aspiring first year photojournalist for The Feather. Elbert aspires to improve his writing and photography skills with help from the team. He has worked in his family's breakfast restaurant, Batter Up Pancakes,  since he was a kid. Elbert has also led the campus through the leadership class since his freshman year, hoping to continue to lead till senior year. After high school he aspires to be a computer programmer and design videogames.
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