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Healthy Hillmen hope to crack top 10 at Calif. cross country championship meet

Placer loves Thanksgiving practice
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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There’s a growing consensus brewing around local fall sports teams that are still alive in the postseason: They love practicing on the fourth Thursday in November.
“It’s 11 years in a row,” said Placer cross country coach Randall Fee, whose varsity boys will be running at the CIF State Meet in Clovis at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. “It’s just something you look forward to. You always hope your season goes until the weekend after Thanksgiving.”
Today the Hillmen, who won the Pioneer Valley League and Sac-Joaquin Section Div. III titles, will go on a 35- to 40-minute run together as a team in preparation for their season finale at Woodward Park. They’ll avoid hills and canyons — and hopefully injuries.
The workout for teammates Toby Qualls, Gama Gomez, Josh Mason, Moshe McCarter, Viktor Dorofeyev, Josh Stelzer and Felix Oliveros will end at the American River, where Fee will give the team a motivational pep talk. 
“It’s a tradition,” Fee said. 
The Hillmen will follow several other traditions leading up to Saturday’s meet. 
After this morning’s workout, Fee wants his team to spend some relaxing time with their families to get their heads off of the task ahead of them. 
The coach isn’t too worried about what the boys eat for Thanksgiving as long as they “watch that dessert a little bit,” he said. 
On Friday morning, Placer will head down to the Fresno area and go directly to Woodward Park to run the course. They’ll go at a talking pace to learn the curves of the route. 
Afterward, the Hillmen and family plan to load up on carbs with a spaghetti dinner at Mimi’s Café — another team ritual. 
On race day, Fee will be watching from the final-quarter mile as a cue for his athletes to turn on the burners when they see him. 
“That’s where we kick in a different gear, where we hope to secure a top-10 finish and close fast,” he said. 
It’s a tactic Fee has used over the last 10 years to train the Hillmen to finish strong. 
Fee said Qualls, the PVL individual boys champion who finished second overall at the section meet, is running well, seems confident and has a goal to finish in the top 10. The coach’s strategy for the rest of the team is to group tightly together and finish within a 30-second span.
“If we’re able to do that, I think we’ll be pretty successful and reach our goal of making the top 10,” Fee said.
Out of the 23 schools competing, Will C. Wood, El Dorado, Paso Robles, Miramonte, Campolindo and Oak Park figure to be tough opponents. The top three will be honored on the podium.
Out of the 200 athletes, the top 10 will make the medal stand. 
Asked about his team’s potential on race day, Fee has noted on several recent occasions that anything can happen on any given day.
“You don’t know about injuries and illness on other teams,” he said. “We go healthy, as we are, that’s the best we can ask for. We’re ready to go. We just need to stay healthy.”
Reach Matthew Kimel at matthewk@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel