St. Francis cross country coach Ramona Young nearly ran out of breath while pouring praise onto senior E.J. Kelly following his individual win in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia division.
The longtime coach called her runner everything from an “absolute pleasure” to the team’s “heart and soul.”
“He’s a true leader,” Young said. “One of the best to ever run here. I’m happy he won a championship.”
Kelly, a four-year varsity star and the Sharks’ first-ever league champion, will have a shot at another title at Monday's Central Coast Section meet.
He’ll also have a shot to change the conversation around him from “one of the best” to “the best” to ever suit up for the Sharks.
Kelly will try to join former teammate Paul Colosi as the school’s second-ever individual section champion when he toes the line at the Crystal Springs Cross Country Course in Belmont.
The Sharks are set to compete in the Division V race at 1:30 p.m.
The meet was rescheduled from Saturday because of the ongoing fires in Northern California.
Kelly is expected to be in the running for the individual crown with Crystal Springs’ star junior Jake Symonds and Nueva’s standout senior Caleb Dittmar.
And that’s no news to Kelly.
Since winning the program’s inaugural individual championship two weeks ago, Kelly’s focus in practice has hit another level. Monday will be his last chance to win a CCS team and individual title. He wanted to make sure the Sharks gave it their best shot.
“I feel like the past two weeks of practice have been the best string of practices we’ve had all season,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re ready.”
Kelly is the last member of what has been the first golden age of cross country at St. Francis. The Sharks have finished in the top six of the D-V race at CCS in each of the last four seasons, and Kelly has been a big part of that success. He’s never placed outside of the top three at CCS, and he has advanced to the state meet in every season.
Those credentials have him, at the very least, in the discussion with Colosi for the best cross country runner in the program’s short history.
Colosi’s CCS D-V championship in 2015 is his biggest bargaining chip, but Kelly’s consistency over the course of his career has been impressive, too.
A win on Monday could tilt the discussion in Kelly’s favor, but he said it would be wrong to talk about his success in a vacuum, as he credits Colosi and his twin brother Luke, for leading him down the right path during his freshman season.
“That group, the Colosi brothers, Braxton Rico, gave me all the tools to be successful,” Kelly said. “We’re still talking about the impact their leadership has on the program today… I came into such a great situation, and I was able to learn everything it took to be a good teammate, a good leader… I can’t really say I’d be here without them…But, yeah, it’s always great to hear your name mentioned with the best.”
Full CCS Cross Country Schedule
Boys' Division II - 10 a.m.
Girls Division II - 10:30 a.m.
Boys Division III - 11:10 a.m.
Girls Division III - 11:45 a.m.
Boys Division IV - 12:20 p.m.
Girls Division IV - 12:55 p.m.
Boys Division V - 1:30 p.m.
Girls Division V - 2:05 p.m.
Boys Division I - 2:40 p.m.
Girls Division I - 3:15 p.m.