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Placer hits their stride

Finkbeiner, Gomez and Winters lead the way
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Ten Pioneer Valley League Championships, four Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles and 750 miles, but who’s counting? The Placer High cross country team may have over a dozen banners and logged a grueling summer practice schedule, but coach Randall Fee said his team takes each season one stride at a time. In his eyes, a league championship is never in the bag, no matter how many the Hillmen may have accumulated. “We never want to get ahead of ourselves. We are going to go for the PVL championship,” Fee said. He credits a strong feeder program from E.V. Cain and an emphasis on keeping his runners healthy for their successful run. Heading up the bid for this year’s title are a strong top seven on both the boys and girls side. Senior Christina Winters is starting to make her mark as the top girl. “We only lost one girl to graduation, so we should be very deep with talent for our top seven,” Fee said. “The biggest surprise has been the progress made by senior Christina Winters. Christina is definitely going to be one of the top runners in our section.” Winters, who in past years typically placed in the top four or five, said her turnaround came after some inspiration at cross country camp this summer. Since then she has increased her mileage and changed her diet in hope of running in college. “I haven’t really been engaged until now. I was good, but I wasn’t great,” Winters said. “I kind of just decided, ‘I don’t want to just be good. I want to be great.’ I went to a cross country camp over the summer. They told me I needed to have purpose for my running.” Winters added swimming and biking to her routine for cross-training. She also managed to work in time to become a certified whitewater rafting guide. All three activities have helped her gain strength. On Winters’ heels will be junior Kailee Warren, sophomore Macaylea Mitchell, senior Kristen Kiatt and junior Ruth Braica. Sophomores Alex Lee, Halle Ralls, Makayla Menga and Marci Baker will duke it out to round out the top seven. Winters said that while Placer’s girls field is competitive, it is a healthy competition. “We have a really good dynamic,” Winters said. “There is never a moment where anyone thinks, ‘I want her to fail, so I look good.’ It’s like ‘wow, she is good. I want to be good.’” On the boys side, another healthy competition is brewing between senior Christian Finkbeiner and junior Gama Gomez. Finkbeiner is the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III individual champion in the 5K and placed 10th in the Way Too Cool 50 kilometer trail race last March. Gomez, who is new to cross country, is also on the soccer team and ran track in the spring. Finkbeiner has been running most of his life with his parents, who are both ultra runners. Gomez and his family emigrated from Mexico five years ago. Gomez said until he moved to the United States he only ran in P.E. Despite their different backgrounds, both athletes will be pillars for Placer. Gomez said cross country is his favorite sport he has participated in so far. His strategy is to give 100 percent each time he runs. “Cross country is more important to me because I am better at it (than track and soccer). Track was just like going around the track,” Gomez said. “When you run the trails you are going somewhere.” Though he is consistently a top finisher at practice, Gomez isn’t sure he’ll be able to outgun Finkbeiner. “Hopefully I can stay with him, and maybe I can even get faster. He might be my leader,” Gomez said. “I’m really going for it. I try my best really everyday.” Finkbeiner returned this week from pacing his dad, Bill Finkbeiner, for 20 miles at the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run held last week in Colorado. The altitude over Hope Pass in the Rocky Mountains reached 12,600 feet. Finkbeiner said he hopes race experiences like that help him break 16 minutes in the 5K. His personal record is 16 minutes 26 seconds. Rounding out the top five boys are sophomore Zach Stelzer, freshman Jose Rodriguez and junior Viktor Dorofeyeu. Sophomore Felix Oliveros, freshman Josh Mason, senior Cameron Brown and junior Zach Stoll will compete for the remaining two spots. Individual achievements aside, Gomez and Finkbeiner agree that Placer is strong as a team. “We are the strongest we have been yet,” Finkbeiner said. “Definitely Randall has a big part in how well we do — his enthusiasm.” Winters said after hours of running together, the Placer cross country team has developed deep ties. Intense training in the American River Canyon won’t hurt their run for league and section titles either. “We are like a family,” Winters said. “We tell each other everything. We laugh about everything. I didn’t run my freshman year because I wanted the whole ‘high school experience.’ It turns out cross country has been the best part of high school.” Placer’s first meet is at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday Sept. 1 at Del Oro. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com. For the latest in Journal Sports follow us on Twitter @PlacerSports.