By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Spencer Berry, a quiet, unassuming senior at Menlo-Atherton High, stood in the middle of a group of Bears' cross country runners following the Peninsula Athletic League championship race Thursday at the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont waiting for final results.
Berry, who finished 12th in 16:40, helped the Bears finish second to powerhouse Carlmont in a close race, 40-44, and qualify for the Central Coast Section finals a week from Saturday at Salinas' Toro Park.
"We're a young team but we want to send (Berry) out on a good note," M-A junior Jack Beckwith said. "We felt good about our race."
Beckwith ran second to Woodside's Kyle Feuerhelm on a hot, dusty afternoon where temperatures reached 86 degrees with 36 percent humidity. Feuerhelm set the pace with his 15:52. Beckwith finished in 16:07.
The M-A girls also qualified for the CCS race, finishing fifth with 123 points. Carlmont took home the championship trophy, scoring 30 points. Senior Julia Vitale finished 12th in 21:01 to lead the Bears.
For the boys, the PAL race was a tuneup for the CCS meet, in which M-A figures to compete for one of the two spots that qualify for the state meet. It's a crowded field, with Bellarmine, Serra and Carlmont also capable of finishing first or second in Division I.
That does not deter the Bears in any conceivable way. They feel like they could win the darn thing if everything breaks well.
"Carlmont has a bunch of great competitors, but so do we," Beckwith said. "It would be great if we could make it to state. We like how we stack up."
Beckwith is one of three juniors and two sophomores among M-A's top seven runners. Berry and Brendy Hale, who finished 25th, are the only seniors.
The Bears lost the overall league championship to Carlmont by one point. The PAL counts the first two league events as 25 percent each of the total, while Thursday's race counted for 50 percent.
M-A and the Scots split the first two league meets, so the championship race was a winner-take-all.
"We're just going to regroup and wait until next week," Beckwith said.
It was an intriguing race between the Bears and Carlmont, the defending CCS champs. Beckwith finished ahead of the Scots' top runner and M-A junior Michael Hester finished fifth, one spot ahead of Carlmont's No. 2 runner.
Sophomore George Baier ran 16:26 to finish eighth for M-A, the same time as Carlmont's third runner, who placed seventh by a fraction. Berry was within four seconds of Carlmont's fourth runner and sophomore John Lovegren was within 15 seconds of the Scots' fifth runner.
Junior Jordan Scandlyn also ran well, finishing 20th among the 101 runners who crossed the finish line. At least two runners were unable to complete the race because of the heat.
It came down to about a 20-second difference. Throw in the WCAL schools and the dynamics of the race could easily flip in Salinas. By the way, Carlmont's top three runners, and five of seven overall, are seniors.
On the girls' side, senior Zoe Meyer finished 24th, sophomore Meredith Geaghan-Breiner was 26th, freshman Annie Albright placed 28th, sophomore Brittany Scheuch crossed in 33rd place and senior Julia Sommer was 50th.