• Cross Country Boys
Strength in numbers for back-to-back CCS champion

St. Francis has 88 runners on roster

It’s hard to crack the boys cross country lineup at St. Francis, especially considering there are 88 runners on the roster.

“It’s the biggest team in the history of our school,” St. Francis coach Phil Pompei said. “It’s a lot of full buses and full locker rooms, but there’s definitely an energy and an excitement around what’s going on. And whether it’s the No. 1 guy or No. 88, there’s a level of pride and ownership of being part of this program.”

“Depth is something that we really work on a lot as a team,” said Shy a m Kumar, the defending Central Coast Section Division II individual champion. “We make sure that we cultivate the underclassmen and make sure that they feel as much a part of the program as we are, and show them that through belief in the program you can achieve a lot more than you’ve ever imagined.”

Kumar, a 5-foot-8 senior, and the other top six varsity runners on the Lancers will travel this weekend to Fresno to compete at the Clovis Invitational.

The 3.1-mile Woodward Park course is the site of the CIF state championships on Nov. 25, and this is the perfect chance to introduce novice runners to the trail and the atmosphere.

“The main thing I’ve learned is it goes out quick, but you can’t really be afraid,” said Kumar, who finished 20th as an individual last year. “They can stick right up there with everyone else and just because it goes out at a crazy kind of start doesn’t mean the entire race is over. They can still push through the pain and sort of fight to the end.”

St. Francis is the back-toback CCS D-II champion as a team, but failed to podium at state after coming in 12th.

It’s obvious the stakes are raised after the Lancers opened the season last month at the Chieftain Classic in Salinas on the Toro Park course with a perfect score: 1-2-3-4-5.

“You rarely go into a meet expecting to score 15 points, so it’s pretty remarkable to accomplish that in our first meet of the year,” Pompei said. “I don’t expect that we’ll go 1 through 5 on Willow Glen again, but to do it once was a pretty cool start to the season for the guys.”

Leading the pack for St. Francis is a 1-2 punch of Kumar and junior Colton Colonna, who finished in that order at the CCS championships last year. “We do push each other,” said Kumar, who trains

40 to 45 miles on race weeks. “I think that’s really how we get better together.”

“There’s nothing like having those two guys rolling together,” Pompei said. “And just the way they’ve been training is the way that they’ve been racing, and that’s helpful for the guys behind them and for the team scoring. They’re realizing how fortunate they are to have one another.

“I think it’s only helped Colton continue to develop and helped keep Shyam hungry and pushing to always have somebody right on his shoulder. It’s a pretty special pair.”

Juniors Eric Eng and Daniel Skahill, along with sophomore Juan Pablo Garcia, finished within a second of each other at the Chieftain Classic, half aminute behind Colonna and Kumar.

But there’s plenty of other Lancers hoping to get a chance to run at the West Catholic Athletic League championship on Nov. 1 at Crystal Springs in Belmont.

Several of them will get a shot at improving their spots on the ladder this weekend at the Serra Invitational, as the Lancers will send a “B” squad to the race on the 2.95-mile course.

“The guys work so hard and it’s frustrating sometimes when they’re No. 8 or 9 or 10, and they’d be in the top seven on just about every other team,” Pompei said. “And so to give them an opportunity to put that varsity singlet on in a top competition like Crystal, we’ll see who steps up and who puts their name in the conversation to be considered for the top seven down the road.”

“I think that’s huge,” Kumar said. “The fact they put on the varsity singlet and they go out there and they race I think will really show them what they’re capable of.” The goal right now is to dethrone Bellarmine as the WCAL champion, with the Bells currently enjoying a 10-year reign.

The last time the Lancers claimed the title was in 2005.

“The time goals that I’ve set out for myself don’t really matter too much for me, as long as I lay it all out there for my team,” Kumar said.

“I think every single guy on that team is far more concerned about the team performance than his own individual performance,” Pompei said. “They push each other and they support each other and they encourage each other and they love each other and they pick up each other up when they’re down. It’s just a joy to work with them and to have that culture within the varsity group trickle down.”