Fresh off their first-ever podium finish at the Marin County Athletic League Championships on Nov. 9, the Justin-Siena High School girls cross country team placed fourth at the North Coast Section meet Saturday to earn a return trip to the CIF State Championships.

Only four of the 19 teams that toed the line at the Hayward High School course advanced to the prestigious state meet, set this Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno

In addition, Justin-Siena senior Dante de los Santos finished sixth overall in the boys race to earn All-NCS honors.

“The girls set a goal last June to return to the state meet this year,” Braves head coach Matt Wilkinson said. “The other coaches and I thought it was possible. But given the realignment within the NCS last winter, where nine Division III schools moved down into our Division IV, our girls would need to be faster in order to make it.”

Indeed, former Division III schools Miramonte and Bishop O’Dowd took the top two spots in Saturday’s Division IV girls race. Last year’s Division IV champion, Piedmont, finished third. Justin out-paced the rest of the field to nab the final qualifying spot.

“This has been our focus for so long and it feels great to have achieved our goal,” said grinning sophomore Mia Vlaming. “Coach would ask us in July, ‘What’s the date today, Mia?’ I’d answer and then he’d ask: ‘How many days to the NCS meet?’ So we’ve been thinking about this day all season and it’s great that it turned out the way we wanted it to.”

Justin-Siena junior Hannah Chau led the Braves, finishing 10th overall. Her time of 18:38 was a full 24 seconds faster than her third-place NCS finish last year.

Ariel Kivela quickly moved to the front pack with Chau to finish 19th overall in 19:14, the senior dropping two minutes off last year’s 54th-place NCS time.

Vlaming surged past two Drake runners in the final 800 meters to finish 32nd in 19:44. She was followed almost immediately by junior teammate Melissa Corona, who finished 37th in 19:51.

Donna Roscoe, a senior, used her strength and experience to finish 50th overall in 20:24. Running through injury, junior Juliette Nast finished 57th in 20:44, and freshman Lauren Aubert’s 71st-place finish out of 131 in 21:29 rounded out the Braves’ contingent.

In the boys race, de los Santos ran 15:46 but missed the last qualifying spot to advance to the state meet by one place. He was 17 seconds behind the fifth and final state qualifier.

“Dante’s story is a heartbreaker. His goal all season was to make it to state,” Wilkinson said. “He ran the race of his life, but fell one place short. As it turned out, Division IV was the most competitive today. Had he raced in either the DI or DIII races, his time would have been sufficient to advance to state. I’m proud of the breakthrough season Dante had this year. He worked very hard and it showed today.”

The Justin boys finished in 15th place overall. Rounding out the boys finishers were sophomore Deven Bose, who improved 90 seconds over his time a year ago in finishing 72nd in 17:16; junior Rahim Burdette, who finished in 92nd in 17:49; freshman James Huber, who finished 105th in 18:12; senior Charlie Rundquist, who finished 114th in 18:34; senior Cameron Vaziri, who finished 124th in 18:59 and freshman Max McAlister, who ran through injury to finish 150th in 20:32.

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