Playoffs in Sight for Sharks Cross Country

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Caroline Pietrzyk has had an outstanding season thus far.

Heading into last week’s meet at the Thacher School in Ojai, Malibu High School girls cross country coach Shawn Waco warned his team about the difficulties of the course. 

However, the girls varsity squad conquered the tough terrain, changes in elevation and Tri-Valley League competitors for a third-place finish at the meet. Now they near the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs. 

Sharks head coach Shawn Waco said the three-mile course in Ojai would have been challenging for junior varsity runners, but his varsity team was ready. 

“We have been training on some pretty steep hills,” he said. “I told them we could handle it, no problem.” 

And the Sharks did. 

Senior Caroline Pietrzyk won the meet outright with a time of 18:41, and sophomore Abby Blackwood came in second place with a time of around 20:00. 

Blackwood and Pietrzyk, the defending CIF Southern Section Division IV cross country champion, started the race fast. 

“Sure enough it was Caroline with no one else in sight,” said Waco, “then there was Abby with a pretty good gap on the rest of the field.” 

The rest of Malibu’s runners weren’t too far behind Blackwood. Junior Caitlyn Myers, junior Sophie Johnson, junior Rachel McConnell, sophomore Ella Taylor and Caroline’s sister, freshman Kate Pietrzyk, all had respectable finishes as well. 

“Coming through they never faded,” Waco said. 

Waco said the girls posting the top-tier times in races is one of the big differences from last season to this year. Last season’s races usually featured Pietrzyk in front of the pack, then the rest of the team finishing in the second half of the race. 

“This year a majority of the girls are in the first half of the field,” said Waco. “That really solidifies our position. If the playoffs were to start right now we would be in.” 

The Sharks’ season so far has featured a few standout performances. Pietrzyk began the season by coming in second in the senior class at the season-opening Seaside Invitational in Ventura on Sept. 5 with a time of 17:06. Blackwood came in 13th with a time of 18:36 at the meet. On Sept. 10, Pietrzyk won the Oak Park Invitational by posting a running time of 17:40. 

The Sharks were then the top team at the Twilight Meet at Lake Casitas in Ventura on Oct. 8. Pietrzyk ran the course in 18:26, good enough for first-place, and Blackwood came in second with a time of 19:49. Malibu had five other runners in the race’s top 30 led by Myers, who came in eighth with a time of 21:39. Johnson finished 22nd with a time of 23:00, and Kate Pietrzyk came in 23rd with a time of 23:13. Tenth-grader Ella Taylor’s time of 23:33 put her in 27th place, and 28th place belonged to Rachel McConnell with 23:39. 

Waco said the win at Lake Casitas, in which they outlasted nine other schools, was pretty amazing. 

“We knew we did well when we went to get the results but didn’t know we won,” he said. “So they are getting pretty confident.” 

The team’s performance at Thacher really showed what they could do. 

“For a majority of a team they handled it and had fun,” he said “They saw it as a challenge, and a good challenge to conquer.” 

Now, with one more league meet on the schedule the Sharks really have a chance at running in the postseason. Waco said wanting to try their best and run hard makes this season exciting. 

“It is looking good that we will make it to the first round of CIF,” he said. “It makes it worthwhile to me as a coach. You see a lot of the team really excited about running and motivated. It’s not something you have to force them to do.”