Girls varsity cross country dominates at NCS Championships


Abby Kapur

Varsity women’s team poses with Head Coach Lauren Nakaso and Coach Ralph Gowen after the awards ceremony.

The Dougherty Valley women’s varsity cross country team placed first in the North Coast Section (NCS) Championship Division 1 race at Hayward High School on Nov. 19 with a score of 35 points, securing their spot to compete in the upcoming state championships.

In state qualifier races like NCS, the top two teams from each division move on to the state championships. Before NCS, Dougherty Valley was expected to win second place, only two points ahead of Dublin High School. Both were anticipated to lose to Berkeley High School’s team, so Dougherty set their sights on beating Dublin to secure a spot at the state championships.

“At multiple races leading up to NCS, Dublin kept beating us by a couple of points, always one, maybe two points,” junior Niharika Bangalore said. “It was really [about] battling it out for second. That was pretty scary going into [NCS], because we might not make it [to state, so there was a] lot of pressure.”

The Dublin top runner, senior Medha Gowda, was expected to win first with her personal record (PR) this season of 18:06 on the three-mile course. She led the race for the first two miles until Dougherty Valley sophomore Sabrina Noriega ran ahead of her. Another Dougherty runner, junior Liana Lee, followed Noriega to overtake Gowda, who trailed behind them in third place as the girls approached the last hill. 

“There was a part in the third mile where I was battling [it] out with a girl in red,” Lee said. “That was the worst part. We kept bumping shoulders and I tried to pass her and she would try to pass me.”

Noriega and Lee crossed the finish line in first and second place with times of 17:56 and 18:05 respectively. With Gowda seemingly out of the running, the remaining Dougherty runners focused on improving their place among Berkeley and Dublin’s girls, who both sported red uniforms. 

“[My goal was] to get the girl in red,” junior Sanjana Sudina said. “I didn’t want to disappoint our team.”

Sudina finished in ninth place at 19:47, followed by Dougherty Valley’s junior Natalie Chan and senior Riyanka Narasimhan with times of 20:05 and 20:09. By the time the top five Dougherty girls were across the finish line, only three Berkeley and two Dublin runners had finished. Dougherty coaches Lauren Nakaso and Ralph Gowen waited for preliminary results to be posted while the last two Dougherty athletes, juniors Nikitha and Niharika Bangalore, climbed up the ranks. 

“Every person was going to matter on this team. Anything could happen, but I wanted [them] to focus on their times and beat as many people [as possible],” Nakaso said.

Nikitha Bangalore finished at 20:41. At that point, Dublin was no longer a challenger for second place: only three of Dublin’s runners had crossed the finish line, and Gowda still hadn’t made it down the last hill. But another Dougherty runner, Niharika Bangalore, had also suffered an unexpected setback on the course.

“The worst part [was] falling and hitting my head on a girl’s shoe. I gave myself a good five seconds to just lay there,” Niharika Bangalore said. “And I was like, ‘Okay, you know what, there’s only like a mile left, and the fastest way to get to the finish is by running it.’ So I ran.”

Niharika Bangalore finished in 21:31, cementing Dougherty Valley’s first place score of 35 points. The Wildcats had won the 2022 NCS Division 1 Girls Cross Country title and punched their ticket for the upcoming state championships. 

“I’m so proud of them,” Nakaso said. “I just wanted to [make] top two, [but] I’ll take first any day.”

Dougherty won by a margin of 15 points over Berkeley, who also qualified for the state championships by coming in second place. Gowda eventually made it down the hill to finish in 24:36, coming in at 47 out of the 50 runners. Dublin placed fourth with a score of 86 points. While Dougherty celebrates the NCS win, the team also looks forward to ending the season on a high note at the state championships race. 

“Getting to state was the hardest part, so I don’t have high expectations,” Nakaso said. “I would love [for them] to race as they did today, but for state [championships], have fun with it and just PR on the course.”

Both the Dougherty Valley women’s and men’s varsity cross country teams will be racing at the 2022 CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 26.