At last year’s CIF Cross Country State Championships, San Luis Obispo High’s Christine Hoffmann watched three runners slip by in the final stretch, killing the chance of a possible top-five finish.
And Seamus Land felt the loneliness that came with being the only runner from the boys team to qualify at the biggest race of the high school season.
Luckily for them, they were only juniors.
Since then, Hoffmann and Land have been working toward their respective do-over.
They get their chance Saturday, when this year’s state meet once again takes off at Woodward Park in Fresno. Hoffmann and the rest of the Tigers’ girls team will participate in the Division 3 race at 11:45 a.m., followed later by Land and his Tiger teammates in the boys Division 3 race at 1:25 p.m.
Also racing Saturday will be Templeton’s Savannah Camacho, who competes in the girls Division 4 race at 8:30 a.m., and Paso Robles’ Zander Souza, who races in the boys Division 3 competition.
“We hope for top 10, but we focus on our race plan,” San Luis Obispo coach Steve Boaz said. “We focus on doing our best.”
For the first time since 1988, which was Boaz’s first year as coach, the Tigers qualified both the boys and girls teams for the state meet. Both teams feature top 10 state-ranked runners, according to ESPNHS/DyeStatCal, as Land is fifth in the boys Division 3 standings, and Hoffmann sits in eighth in the girls Division 3 list.
Both runners are familiar with the state meet.
Hoffman placed eighth last year in the 5K race at Woodward Park with a time of 18 minutes, 6 seconds, though she remembers a trio of runners outkicking her toward the finish line. In some ways, that was a mood-killer.
“That kind of sucked,” Hoffmann said. “Otherwise, it was a great race. It was the fastest race I’ve ever been in. I’m not exactly a sprint finisher.”
Nonetheless, the Tigers girls team ended the day in sixth place with 207 points, thanks to having three runners finish in the top 32.
San Luis Obispo’s second-best runner in that race, Micayla Rennick, returned as a junior and is expected to play a similar role again after helping the Tigers to third place in last week’s Southern Section Division 3 finals — their best showing in school history.
Also at the section’s 3-mile race, Hoffmann took third in 17:33 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, shattering the school’s course record by 22 seconds. Jenna Kingma, who went on to become an All-American at Arizona State, was the previous record holder.
Expect Hoffmann to bring the same kind of speed to Woodward Park, where she’ll be joined by teammates Rennick, Olivia Carmo and Leah Rife-Dupuy, who all finished in the top 25 of last week’s section meet.
“Last year, they thought they were out of it,” Boaz said about the Tigers’ state performance, “but they were sixth.”
For Land, it’ll be nice to have some team support Saturday. He won’t be the lone San Luis Obispo boys runner, like he was last year. After logging the school’s second-best course time at last week’s section finals in 15:08, enough for sixth place, Land and the Tigers will be at the state meet for the first time since 2005.
At last year’s 5K race at Woodward Park, Land placed 21st in 15:48. This time, he’ll be joined by Luke Kraemer and Joshua Ernst, who were San Luis Obispo’s other top section finishers last week.
“Five of the top seven are seniors, so we’re doing it for each other,” Land said. “We’ve got to get ready for the race. We’ve got to get ready to give it our all.”
Though both have achieved numerous individual honors since taking up cross country during their freshmen years at San Luis Obispo, Hoffmann and Land are eager for another go-round at state. Especially with teammates nearby.
“Both Seamus and Christine have been the team leaders,” Boaz said. “They’ve been great team leaders. They both have elevated the program to state levels. They didn’t want to make it as individuals. They wanted the team to be a part of it.”