Despite being one of the most unheralded high school sports, interest in cross country has expanded exponentially throughout Colusa County in recent years with Colusa, Pierce and Williams all fielding large teams.
Yet such was not always the case, and for many years only Colusa was a consistent competitor, having to contend among the likes of Gridley, Las Plumas, Oroville and Sutter because it was the only opportunity available.
However, the ability to persevere is at the very heart of the sport and no one knows that better than Matt Giffin, who has spent 18 of his 24 years at Colusa High School coaching cross country and is the subject of the final segment in the Coaches Corner series.
Giffin, a hurdler during his high school days in nearby Durham, took on the Colusa cross country team in 2002 working along side one of his coaching mentors Vern Reiger, and is proud of how the program has grown.
“The idea for a team actually came from Teal Richards, who in her junior year got Vern on board, and there were seven runners, but now we’re close to 40 in spite of competing for athletes with all the other fall sports,” said Giffin whose 2019 varsity boys team captured the NSCIF Division V section title last November, the first in school history.
Although last year was their first team championship, Colusa harriers had seen individual success time and again over the years sending multiple qualifiers to the CIF State Championships.
Mallory Mumma was one of the first in 2006, followed by three, three time qualifiers in Carli Marengo (2007-2009), Mimi Rinzler (2008-2010) and Ross Cervantes (2009-2011), while Paige Townzen (2012), Max Moreno (2013) and Mollie Townzen (2013) also earned individual berths.
Still for Giffin, his most memorable team was his 2012 group, one that stunned everyone but themselves at the Northern Section Finals to become the first RedHawk team to make it to the state meet.
It was a group that ran under the mantra “Run Wild” and they did just that according to Giffin, who along with co-coach Darren Townzen employed some novel training methods to prepare the runners for competition.
“We would go to Cowboy Camp [part of the Cache Creek Wilderness Area] west of Williams and run in the hills. It was hot, dusty and rocky. When we were done we’d be picking star thistle out of our shoes and shins, but they loved it. We did some crazy things, and it was awesome,” Giffin remembered.
Giffin was also quick to acknowledge Townzen, his co-coach, as being an integral factor in the RedHawks’ success saying, “Darren started when Paige was a freshman in 2009 and things really took off from there. I’m more of a go with your gut coach, but he is really deliberate and detail oriented. The team requires capable, collaborative coaches, and it works well for us.”
The combination has certainly has paid off for the RedHawks, particularly in 2012, when after suffering a gut wrenching loss in the BVL Championships to Sutter a week before the finals, they showed complete resiliency seven days later in what would be their biggest triumph of the season.
Running at West Valley High School, one of the few true cross country courses in the North State, the RedHawks battled the elements along with a field of 179 runners to emerge as one of the two state qualifying teams in Division V.
While their performance left other teams wondering how they managed such a feat, Giffin never doubted that it was possible, recalling this about the “Run Wild” crew, “They knew each would give their all, no matter what. They never doubted it. That attitude of ‘I’m giving everything’ prevailed and it was great.”
Leading the way was Cervantes, a senior, who ran the three-miles in 17:36 and was followed by Moreno, just a freshman, in a time of 17:47.
Senior Lucas Corriea crossed the line in 18:01, a personal record on the course, with sophomore Christian Marzan right behind in 18:02, while junior Felipe Granados finished with a season’s best time at the distance in 18:40.
Rounding out the team and adding to its chemistry was senior Ernesto Mendez and junior Ryan Mead.
Without question it was a unique combination of abilities and personalities that forged together that season competing in an unsung and heroic sport, but they made good on their conviction which was: when people run wild in pursuit of a dream, they can make it happen. ♣