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Garcia sixth at CIF meet, earns state meet berth

Fallbrook High School senior Noelle Garcia completed the 2.75-mile CIF San Diego Section cross-country meet in 16:41, placing sixth among the 144 Division I girls in the November 22 meet at San Diego’s Morley Field and earning a berth at this Saturday’s state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno.

“Noelle had an absolutely incredible race, fantastic race,” said Fallbrook head coach Troy Hamlin. “It was one of the most technically sound races I have ever seen a high school girl run. She did everything right.”

Garcia ran the first mile in 5:57 and crossed the two-mile point at 12:00.

“You couldn’t ask for a more evenly run race,” Hamlin said. “It’s rare that you see that at the high school level.”

The top three teams qualify for the state meet, as do the top five runners not affiliated with a team which qualified for the state race.

Torrey Pines, Rancho Buena Vista, and Rancho Bernardo earned the team positions while accounting for the top five Division I finishers.

Garcia was the top finisher for a team which did not earn a trip to Fresno.

Rancho Bernardo sophomore Molly Grabill won the Division I race with a time of 15:50, edging out the 15:51 of Torrey Pines junior Megan Morgan.

Torrey Pines sophomore Erin Gillingham finished third at 16:14 and Rancho Buena Vista sophomore Shanna St. Laurent placed fourth at 16:18.

Caroline Draper, a senior at Rancho Bernardo High School, beat out Garcia for fifth, although both runners were given times of 16:41.

“Noelle was coming on really, really strong,” Hamlin said. “It was a call on the line that separated the two.”

Hamlin doesn’t dispute that call. “Draper leaned on her and she did win clearly,” he said.

When Hamlin and Garcia reviewed the race prior to the starting gun, they agreed that Garcia needed to put herself in contention at the start without expending an excessive amount of energy.

Garcia was in approximately 15th place after the runners left their boxes. “Pretty much held that through the mile, through the hill,” Hamlin said.

Garcia then passed several runners during the second mile to advance to sixth place.

Garcia finished with a clear lead over Rancho Buena Vista sophomore Harper Cleves, who placed seventh at 16:45.

Sophomore Emily Birch of Escondido finished eighth at 16:49 to become the second runner to qualify as an individual.

The CIF meet consisted of five divisions, based on enrollment.

Garcia’s time placed her ninth among the 464 girls from all divisions. “For little Noelle, that’s quite an achievement,” Hamlin said.

Division III runners Sammy Silva of Our Lady of Peace and Sheree Shea of University City had times of 15:55 and 16:16, respectively, while Division II winner Elizabeth Apgar of Lincoln finished at 16:38.

At the Avocado League meet November 15 at Kit Carson Park, Garcia had finished sixth with a time of 17:58.

Only two of the five runners who bested Garcia at the league meet, Morgan and Gillingham, had better times than the Fallbrook senior during the CIF section meet where Garcia finished ahead of Torrey Pines’ Alli Billmeyer, La Costa Canyon’s Shanoah Souza, and Birch.

The three North County Conference leagues ran separate races at Kit Carson Park November 15, and ten Palomar League runners had faster times than Garcia.

Only Grabill, St. Laurent, and Draper finished ahead of Garcia at the section meet.

None of the three Valley League runners who posted faster times than Garcia’s at Kit Carson Park were able to match or beat Garcia’s time at Morley Field.

“Everything that Noelle has gotten is not because she’s exceptionally talented,” Hamlin said. “She works and she’s got heart.”

At the 2007 CIF section meet Garcia placed 19th with a time of 17:21.

“Every single race she’s run for the last three years has been an improvement on the race she ran the previous year,” Hamlin said. “She has distinguished herself at this point as one of the finest runners ever to put on the red and white. She ranks up there with the best of them.”

Kristin Parry spent her freshman year at Fallbrook High School but moved with her family to Dana Hills during the summer and now attends Dana Hills High School.

Last year Parry surpassed Garcia as Fallbrook’s top runner by the CIF meet, where Parry finished 13th with at time of 17:02.

Hamlin feels that may have been a wake-up call for Garcia.

“She’s talented, yeah, but she’s not that talented. She’s gotten this far because she’s a real hard worker and she’s focused on what she wants to accomplish,” he said. “She really stepped up in her training this season.”

Hamlin feels that extra level of training was likely the difference which contributed to Garcia’s success this year.

“She’s more mature now and so smart,” he said. “It’s just been an amazing year for her.”

The Avocado League includes Torrey Pines and Escondido, which finished fourth at the CIF meet, as well as Fallbrook.

“Our league actually had a pretty good showing,” Hamlin said.

Escondido’s Tiffany Duffy finished 12th at the CIF meet and joined Birch as an independent qualifier.

The other two independent qualifiers were both from Vista High School; Michelle Cruz finished 11th and Kelly Thompson placed 14th.

Twelve of the 19 North County Conference schools competed in the Division I race.

The highest finisher outside the North County Conference was Eastlake’s Michelle Walling, who had a time of 17:30 to place 19th. Chula Vista’s Jessica Mendoza was the second-fastest finisher outside the North County Conference, placing 24th at 17:50.

The next two finishers outside the North County Conference were Calexico’s Jhovanna Lemus at 30th place and Alexandria Olivo of Granite Hills in 40th place.

“It was just total dominance, really, by the North County Conference,” Hamlin said.

As a team Fallbrook placed 15 among the 21 schools fielding enough runners for a team score.

“They ran with heart,” Hamlin said. “We’re really going with a new team, and I’m not at all dissatisfied with what they did.”

Garcia was the only Fallbrook runner at this year’s section meet who competed in the 2007 CIF race.

Four of the 2007 Warriors were seniors, Parry’s transfer puts her in the CIF Southern Section, and current senior Olivia Tidd has a partially torn soleus muscle in her calf and has not run since the Southern California Invitational October 18.

Amanda Mulkey has been battling injuries since the Southern California Invitational and missed three weeks of training, along with two meets, before returning.

“Amanda has a lot of heart to even get out there and run,” Hamlin said. “I give her credit for having the guts and the heart to get out there.”

Mulkey’s injuries limited the sophomore to a 72nd-place time of 19:17. Freshman Jessica Jamison’s time of 19:48 placed her 101st.

“She’s a hard worker,” Hamlin said of Jamison. “She’s buying into cross-country now.”

Sophomore Courtney Bode’s first CIF meet saw her finish 109th at 19:56. Tamzen Sommer, a sophomore who is in her first season as a cross-country runner, finished 112th with a time of 19:59. Freshman Mercedes Cortes placed 115th at 20:04.

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