Doug Chase was the head coach of the Scotts Valley High girls cross country team when Todd Hoffman arrived at the school 12 years ago.
Shortly after, long-time coach Gretchen Schmitt took over the program and continued to develop a competitive squad on a yearly basis.
Hoffman is now replacing Schmitt after she announced last year would be her final run with the program. His first big move was simple: Don’t change anything.
“I don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Hoffman said. “They did such an incredible job that I’m just coming in and doing what they normally would do.”
This year’s group of seasoned veterans is hoping to do what they normally do and beyond that. That includes bringing home their first Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League and Central Coast Section titles in the program’s history.
Hoffman said they might be close to winning a league championship. But, he’s not sure what the other schools within the league look like and it’s not clear who’s returning this season, which makes it hard to tell who will be the front-runner.
“Our girls are strong and I think they’ll be in there for discussion,” he said. “I’m excited, they’re excited. Let’s go out and work hard and win a league title, and go to state, which is their ultimate goal.”
The Falcons will have the entire team returning from last year, including senior captains Jessica Hill-Roddick and Greta Feague, and junior captain Rafaela Putnam.
Hoffman said the girls have been bonding outside of school and they’ve turned into a tight-knit group that’s been pushing each other hard to reach their goals this season.
“Their leadership is really helping so the team is all working together and they have goals of going to state,” Hoffman said. “It’s our core group that’s coming back from last year.”
In order to get the first step done, Scotts Valley will have to get through SCCAL rival Aptos High, which has won 12 CCS titles since 2000.
The Falcons have made the trip to the CCS championship on several occasions, coming in as the runner-up four straight times from 2010-‘13. They’ve also had one CCS individual and CIF State champion, Vanessa Fraser, who did it in 2012.
Hill-Roddick said it’s been great to train with the same team from last year because they didn’t lose any seniors.
“We’re really excited to see what the season brings,” she said. “I think we do have a really solid base and we’ll definitely see how it goes.”
The Boothby sisters, junior Amber and sophomore Ashlyn, are also returning to this year’s squad.
Ashlyn and Amber were the top finishers at the SCCAL cross country championship on March 26. They finished first and second respectively at the 2.95-mile course at Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville.
Hoffman said the sisters have been fired up and are thrilled to get the season in full gear.
“[Ashlyn and Amber] expect improvement and I do, too,” he said. “They’ve been running all summer, working hard and [I’m] hoping we’re not adding too much mileage to them.”
Putnam said having the entire team return this season is setting them nicely up for a shot at the league title, especially because their No. 1 and 2 runners, Ashlyn and Amber. She said they also have a group of runners in the 3-7 spots that can all post competitive times.
“I think we’re going to do really well at league, so far with our training, and we’re going on towards training for state,” she said. “That’s our goal this season, along with the boys.”
Last year, there were no CCS or CIF State championships due to the pandemic.
Covid-19 guidelines for youth sports forced league officials to split the runners into two heats, with the faster runners going in the second group. That won’t be the case this season as runners are expected to start races as one large group.
Hoffman said it’s been nice to be able to do optional summer practices and having a chance to talk about readjusting to a traditional schedule.
“We’ve worked hard to keep the communication open, stay positive and if someone is going through something, we’re going to stop, talk and be open about it,” he said.
Feague said it’s been great for her to get back to a regular schedule after going through a shortened Covid-19 season that lasted from February through March. She added that even though their training was disrupted and they weren’t as fast as they wanted to be, it’s been special being together during this time.
“I think it brought the team closer in kind of a weird way just because we’ve been through something hard all together and we know what it’s like to have to train through that,” she said.