On the road to CIF

At the starting line: Dark jerseys from left: Gianna Fote, Becki Ottusch, Caitlin Sherry and Danielle Bush. Photo by John Ottusch

Malibu High School is no longer a secret in girls cross country. A Division IV team, the Sharks challenge Division II and III teams in pre-league meets, building their running skills and honing their race strategies. That training is paying off. The girls surprised Frontier League rivals once again on Thursday to capture second place, behind Carpinteria, at League Meet 2 at Villanova High School in Ojai. Malibu’s Becki Ottusch won the individual competition.

Ottusch quickly asserted her lead in the three-mile race, distancing herself in the first quarter mile from the pack. Still, Ottusch held herself back during the first mile over the unfamiliar course. Villanova’s Casey Siuniak trailed in second, while Malibu’s Gianna Fote stayed within 20 seconds of Ottusch and Siuniak in the first mile, with Carpinteria’s Kacey Nomura brushing their heels.

As Ottusch climbed up the sun-drenched, long, winding uphill through the dry chaparral and brown grass of the second mile, some of her fellow teammates were still running midway through mile one. Ottusch advanced inexorably uphill, and her lead increased.

“This was a hot course,” Ottusch said. “The hills didn’t look steep, but they seemed to wind uphill forever.”

Ottusch led the course during the entire race, not sparing a second. Fote shadowed Nomura, staying with the senior through every turn and uphill. At the first league meet of the season, Siuniak had squeaked past Fote to the finish line. Fote was determined not to let Siuniak, a fellow sophomore, pass her this time. Losing her home course advantage, Siuniak was passed in the second mile by Nomura and Fote.

Midway through the third and final mile, where the course wound under oaks and on cool grass, Ottusch picked up her pace, gaining another dozen seconds over her rivals. She finished the race in 21 minutes, 45 seconds.

During mile three, Fote stuck tight to Nomura, running on determination and grit. On the home stretch as the runners approached the finish line, Nomura revved up her running tempo and Fote followed suit. But Nomura managed to squeak by to finish second. Siuniak came in at fourth. Malibu freshman Danielle Bush, debuting in her first league meet, performed strongly with a 14th-place finish. Other top Malibu runners included Caitlin Sherry (15th), Jessica Kaplan (20th), Nallely Ruiz (21st) and Emily Woodworth (22nd).

Junior varsity runner Nina Geibel performed strongly, finishing second in the JV race, with Sarah Dahlinger, Rebecca Nassimi, and Isabelle Radoyce following .

This is another chapter for the history books. The Sharks as a team have a solid chance at competing in the CIF Prelims. They have not come close to qualifying as a team in many years .

The Sharks compete again on Friday at Mt. Sac, the oldest and largest cross country race in the world.