Even though the cross-country season unfolded like no other during these COVID-19 times, one thing remained the same: Granada High’s girls’ varsity team reigned supreme in the Tri-Valley area.

Buoyed by a deep freshman class and senior individual champion Shae Hill, the Matadors earned the team title in the fast Girls’ Varsity #2 race (Division 4) in the Tri Valley Cross Country Meet of Champions at Dublin High on March 20.

Granada, unbeaten against East Bay Athletic League competition over the past five seasons, prevailed with 38 points and fended off a stern challenge from Dougherty Valley, which had 53.

“It helps when you have the No. 1 runner in the league; Shae Hill is running really, really well,” Granada co-coach Jeremy Mattern said. “Behind Shae, we have a really, really strong unit of hard-working, talented freshmen, 100% bonded to the program. They really care about each other, and they work hard, and they knew the tradition that we’ve got going.”

Since there is no EBAL, North Coast Section or California Interscholastic Federation championships during an abbreviated season, the focus locally was on this Dublin meet, which featured four varsity races, including two boys’ and two girls’ races, along with freshmen vs. varsity runs.

In Girls’ Varsity #2, Granada’s strategy was to go out in the lead pack and try to stay within reach on a flat course. Mission accomplished.

Hill had a blistering time of 17 minutes, 05.7 seconds, over the 3-mile course, besting runner-up Sofia Tavella of San Ramon Valley (17:20.9) by over 15 seconds. Monte Vista senior Abby Binder (17:30.1) was third. Dougherty Valley was paced by senior Sarneed Andar (fifth, 17:37.5). Impressively, the Matadors had three freshmen girls in their scoring five: Evelyn Ruckmann-Barnes (fourth overall, 17:35.4) and Janna Barron (ninth, 17:59.9) and Gabriella Edwards (17th, 18:28.5).

In the Boys’ Varsity #2 (Division 4) race, Granada sophomore Roland Ruckmann-Barnes, Evelyn’s older brother, had a head-turning run, with a huge drop of time on the course and a runner-up finish to De La Salle’s UCLA-bound senior Patrick Curulla. Curulla prevailed in a time of 14:46.2, and Ruckmann-Barnes ran 14:53.5. Third-place Euan Houston of Amador Valley, a standout miler in track and field, also broke 15 minutes with a time of 14:56.7, and Dublin junior standout Daniel Trampe was fourth, in 15:06.6.

“He’s just a clutch performer,” Mattern said of Ruckmann-Barnes, the team’s No. 4 or 5 runner for most of the abbreviated season. “He does really well under pressure; he doesn’t take it too seriously, and he really rises up to challenge. He’s not intimidated by the circumstances of a higher level meet.”

State powerhouse De La Salle, which won the NCS Division II title last season, finished first as a team with 40 points, nine points lower than runner-up Granada. Dublin was third with 71, while Monte Vista had 74 and Amador Valley had 125.

In the Boys’ Varsity #1 race, California was first with 44 points and Foothill was second with 56. Next, were San Ramon Valley (58) and Dougherty Valley (71). San Ramon Valley’s Carson Foster and Quinn Salmon grabbed the top two individual spots. Foothill senior Arjun Subramanian was fourth individually.

Additionally, Carondelet won a tight Girls’ Varsity #1 race with 58 points, edging out Amador Valley (63), Foothill (70), California (71), and Dublin (76). Amador Valley junior Tanya Small was first as an individual, in 18:22.8. Foothill freshman Katelyn Espino was second (18:36.1) and Dublin sophomore Medha Gowda was third (18:56.6).

The Granada girls’ team has won five consecutive NCS Division II championships, but the Matadors boys’ team is carving out its own impressive legacy.

“Our boys’ team has worked super hard, and it’s been amazing; they’ve really gelled,” Mattern said. “Our senior boys have demonstrated incredible leadership for the rest of the team, and they’ve really kept that enthusiasm going. It’s sort of an emotionally challenging year, where you don’t get all that under your normal circumstances, so they really helped maintain their enthusiasm. I think the younger guys have benefited from that example."