Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.

NOV. 14, 2016 — Natalie Novitsky didn’t believe she could contend for a Central Coast Section girls’ cross country championship. For the Sacred Heart Prep senior, the mission was to run with heart.

Novitsky’s heart was enough to make the unbelievable come true Saturday at Crystal Springs, as the senior was crowned queen of CCS Division IV, becoming the third all-time SHP girl to take CCS gold, and the first in 16 years. Carringan Denny-Brown was the last to do so in 2000, while Trisha Felts was the first in 1994.

Novitsky ran a controlled first mile at the notoriously rigorous course, taking an early lead shortly thereafter by dashing past longtime friends and rivals Mari Friedman and three-time defending CCS champ Niki Iyer. She went on to win in commanding fashion by with a time of 17 minutes, 42.78 seconds on the 2.95-mile course to top the field by over 15 seconds.

“My coach always tells me to pick girls off [at the one-mile mark] and have a little more heart,” Novitsky said.

Earlier in the season, Friedman had gotten the best of Novitsky at the Stanford Invitational, taking first place to Novitsky’s third on Oct. 1 at the Stanford Golf Course. Then at the West Bay Athletic League finals Nov. 4 at Crystal Springs, Iyer emerged as the champion by better than 30 seconds over Novitsky’s second-place finish.

Under Saturday’s pristine conditions with the late-morning sun still warming the scenic plateau among the Belmont hilltops, Novitsky ran most of the race all by herself, outpacing her rivals by so much that through the turn for the final 400 yards, there was still no other runners in sight as she crossed the finish line.

“That was crazy,” Novitsky said. “I was not expecting that at all.”

For SHP head coach Ken Wilner, the task prior to the meet was getting Novitsky to believe in gold. To that, Wilner asked her to focus on restraint in the first mile. It’s a key approach to running at Crystal Springs, which opens with one major incline in the opening mile, before getting rigorously hilly on the back half of the course.

“I was trying to convince Natalie that if she ran a controlled first mile she could beat anybody in this race,” Wilner said.

Even upon finishing the race, Novitsky still appeared somewhat in disbelief of what she had just accomplished.

“Mari and Niki are just really great athletes,” Novitsky said. “It just depends on the day.”

With the win, Notvitsky earns an automatic berth into the state championships Nov. 26 at Fresno’s Woodward Park.

SHP did not qualify as a team, taking sixth place in Division IV behind first-place Santa Cruz, second-place San Lorenzo Valley and third-place Menlo School. Still, the SHP team — which saw three runners finish within 12 seconds of one other: senior Jean Howell (32nd, 21:25.93); junior Brooke Whitcomb (36th, 21:35.21); and sophomore Keemya Bashiri (38th, 21:37.90) — was elated about its team standings.

“[Novitsky] is always much further ahead,” Howell said. “But we got off to a conservative start, so we had a strong finish. We had a good team race today.”

Novistsky’s time was the second-best overall time on the course of any of the girls’ races Saturday. Only Aptos junior Marea Zlatunich from the Division III race did better at 17:25.88.

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