Five girls and a whole lot of heart.
That was the winning recipe as the Menlo School girls’ track team achieved the seemingly impossible last Friday in Gilroy, claiming the team title at the Central Coast Section Track and Field Championships, the first in program history.
“We were a really, really tiny army and we just kept on winning these small battles,” Menlo head coach Jorge Chen said. “And then finally at the end of the night the scoreboard showed Menlo won the CCS championship.”
Distance runners Charlotte Tomkinson, Kyra Pretre and Lauren Hamilton, sprinter Michelle Louie and hurdler Alexandra Chan — who have all been named Daily Journal Athletes of the Week — combined to total two gold, two silver and two bronze medals to top the team leaderboard with 53 points, finishing ahead of the second-place tally of 38 shared by each San Lorenzo Valley and Silver Creek.
“We knew going into the meet it was a possibility,” Tomkinson said. “But everything was going to have to go perfectly. Then everything started falling into place. We had kind of a perfect night. … The magnitude of what we did with just five girls, it was just awesome.”
Tomkinson has been the superstar of the Menlo girls’ team. Her times in the 800 meters have dominated the CCS all season, and she did not disappoint in Gilroy, claiming gold in the event, for the second straight year, in a time of 2 minutes, 13.69 seconds. She also took bronze in the 400 with a time of 57.35.
It was Pretre’s first-ever individual CCS gold that set the tone, though, as she topped the podium in the 1,600 with a 5:01.58, using her signature closing speed to explode into the bell lap.
“I just hit that last lap and just kind of put the hammer down,” Pretre said.
The junior tandem of Tomkinson and Pretre has been the driving force of Menlo’s run toward destiny. Running in different events is a common strategy for the two, but for the CCS finals they paired in the 800. Pretre upped her medal count by taking silver in the event, finishing behind Tomkinson with a time of 2:15.16.
“Yeah, it was a lot of fun,” Pretre said. “When I hit that home stretch that was the one thing going through my head is keep the one-two.”
Senior hurdler Alexandra Chan was racking up points as well. She took bronze in the 100 hurdles, notching a time of 14.71 seconds, finishing back of Silver Creek’s Jazlynn Shearer (13.86) and Westmont’s Jessica Swalve (14.50).
“She had a huge smile that went from ear to ear,” Chen said. “Her goal was to make it to the state finals and go sub 15 (seconds) and she did both of them at the CCS meet. And that was also a league record for the WBAL. So, she was really happy with her accomplishment and she is also looking forward to dropping some more time in the state finals.”
The piece de resistance for the Menlo squad, though, came in the final girls’ event of the night, the 4x400 relay.
The silver-medal performance of Louie, Hamilton, Pretre and Tomkinson set new a personal record with a sub-four-minute time of 3:56.74.
The three top finishers in each event earned a spot in the state finals this coming weekend at Buchanan High School in Clovis. And Menlo seemed to have this in hand when Pretre handed the baton to Tomkinson for the final lap securely in third place.
Tomkinson, however, tired legs and all, closed a 35-meter gap between she and the second-place team to make good on a playful nickname she has earned for picking off so many runners this season — the assassin.
“I was definitely running on tired legs,” Tomkinson said. “So, I didn’t really know how my body was going to react, so I just took off and let my legs do what they could do.”
Down the final straightaway, Tomkinson drew even with Los Altos junior Anna Zaeske as the two recorded one of the most fantastic finishes of the meet. Tomkinson managed to out-lean her opponent at the tape to give Menlo a time just one one-hundredth better than Los Gatos’ third-place finish at 3:56.75.
“It was pretty awesome,” Pretre said. “We all got super excited. And Charlotte does not like to lose a kick. So it was like: ‘She’s got it. She’s got it.’ And she did.”
After Menlo was awarded the CCS trophy at the end of the meet, the team stayed and turned the infield into their own private party, staying for about an hour to celebrate, take photos and bask in realizing the dream of making program history.
“By the time they announced the team finishers and all the winners, most of the other schools already left,” Chen said. “So, it was just kind of us celebrating on our own. We were just on cloud nine and we’re still there. We haven’t come back yet. So, it was definitely a very historical and, in many ways, this had to be the biggest team track upset in CCS history.”