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Rivals hit the trail, together

Devitt-Payne leads the way as Del Oro wins section crown despite bump up to Division II
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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When Kevin Ostenberg heard the news earlier this fall that his Del Oro High cross country team would be competing at the Division II level in the postseason, his reaction was not fit for print. After winning the past three Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles, the Golden Eagles faced a daunting challenge stepping up a division. But senior Caitlin Devitt-Payne peaked at the section championships and Del Oro found itself with a fourth straight section banner. “That was our first time beating Woodcreek this year,” Ostenberg said of the section meet. “We were getting closer each week and they came through huge.” Instead of dueling with friendly rival Placer, Del Oro conquered Sierra Foothill League foe Woodcreek at the section meet. The Golden Eagles finished third behind Granite Bay and Woodcreek in the SFL standings, but they topped the Timberwolves when it mattered most thanks to their depth. The two teams tied through the first five runners, but Del Oro sophomore Dominique Tristant’s solid 27th place showing made the difference. “It was really, really intense,” Devitt Payne said. “We really wanted to beat them. We knew it was going to be close, we were just hoping we could do it. Everyone just ran a really good race.” The Del Oro girls met up with Placer to train in Auburn on Tuesday. The two teams have traded spots atop the section podium often, with at least one of them winning a section crown 14 times in the last two decades. They’ll be rooting for each other on Saturday at the CIF State Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno. The Hillgals took second place in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III race, earning a return to the state championships for the fourth straight year. Unlike Del Oro, young talent dominates the Placer squad. Freshman Macaylea Mitchell was the top Placer finisher, just ahead of sophomore Kailee Warren. Mitchell has led Placer all season, finishing second in the Pioneer Valley League individual standings. “I’m surprised at how much I can actually run now that I’m conditioned and everything,” Mitchell said. “It’s been really exciting. I’ve liked it a lot – more than I expected.” Devitt-Payne struggled at last year’s state championships, though the Golden Eagles placed eighth as a team. Seniors Emma Freeman, Jessie Rozario and Desiree Bacchi bring great experience along with junior Alexa Lua. A top-10 finish at state would be impressive, considering the talent coming out of the Southern Section. The ESPN Rise/DyeStatCal rankings have Southern teams in the top seven slots with Del Oro ranked ninth. Top-ranked Saugus features what some experts are calling the greatest lineup in state history. Placer is looking to improve on last year’s performance, when senior Shannon Harcus was the only finisher in the top 100. “We definitely want to do better than last year, hopefully in the top 15,” Mitchell said. Devitt-Payne, who is an outstanding 1,600-meter runner in the spring, said she is looking to make the most of her final time wearing the Del Oro jersey. “It’s nice because you know you’re doing everything for the last time and you just want to make it the best,” Devitt-Payne said. “It’s been really fun.”