Freshman sensation Shea Elmore and junior standout Sophie Tau lead the top-ranked Los Gatos High girls cross country team. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Los Gatos High cross country standouts Shea Elmore and Sophie Tau can be in the middle of a hard workout when they suddenly start busting out in laughter. In a sport as difficult as running—where one has to continually push their physical limits—keeping things loose and fun is essential to success. 

“Sophie and I are always laughing constantly with each other and at each other,” said Elmore, the top freshman sensation who has four first-place finishes, a second and a third in six races this season. “It’s super great when we’re doing fast intervals that sometimes we can start laughing even when we’re breathing heavily. It keeps all the hard training fun.”

Tau is the Wildcats’ No. 2 runner and like Elmore has been remarkably consistent this season. The junior has a first, two seconds, a pair of fourths and an eighth-place finish out of six races. Tau has made steady improvement since her freshman year, consistently running times two to three minutes faster this season. 

“Mainly it’s my mindset because I don’t think I was as serious about running as I am now,” she said. “We have a good team that motivates me and I genuinely like running now.”

Indeed, Los Gatos is not only the top-ranked team in the Central Coast Section, but in Northern California, according to The Wildcats have a crop of talented freshmen including Tatum Pyle and Sarina Salzer-Swartz, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in the second league meet of the season on Oct. 5. 

Senior Fiona Herron finished 14th and was the team’s fifth and final scoring runner as Los Gatos totaled a low of 38 points to best Los Altos by 13 positions. Sophomores Abigail Zolla (23rd) and Kate Herron (27th) provided strong support in a field of 94 runners. 

“Everyone on the team enjoys each other’s company, and we all really love running and that plays a big role (in the team’s success),” Tau said. “We motivate and inspire each other, and we’re close knit. Shea has played a big role in my improvement. She’s so fast and I look up to her so much.”

Elmore echoed similar sentiments: “It’s super fun being on this team and I love going to practices. It’s probably one of the best parts of my day.”

Elmore entered high school with a strong running resume, so it’s not a surprise to see her winning races. However, Elmore said she’s been pleasantly surprised in how she’s performed against ultra-tough competition. The Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s De Anza Division is one of the toughest in the CCS, and boasts one of the best individuals in Palo Alto High junior Elizabeth Fetter.

In the first league meet of the season on Sept. 21 at Baylands, Elmore edged Fetter by half a second over the 3.1-mile course. The two were hip on hip virtually the entire way, with Elmore barely outkicking Fetter in the final 10 meters. 

“I’ve actually had that happen (near photo finish) a bunch of times in my races in the past, and it’s always fun when it happens,” Elmore said. “I usually have a really good kick, and it comes down to the lean at the finish line and I love that.”

Elmore went sub-12 minutes at the season-opening 2.0-mile Firebird Invitational and established a season-best time of 17:57.6 over 3.1 miles at the first league meet on Sept. 21. Elmore has a goal to win league and CCS titles, both as an individual and the team. 

Her future in the sport was cemented at an early age. Elmore started doing the mile run in the fifth grade, when she clocked in at 6 minutes, 35 seconds. It was at that point when she joined a running club. The next year, she lowered her time in the mile to 5:55. 

As a seventh grader, she hit 5:15. Both of Elmore’s parents are runners and she would tag along with them on runs starting in elementary school. 

“I never liked being left home so I would force myself to go along with them,” she said. 

Tau realized she was faster than most of her peers while in grade school, when, during games of tag, teachers and fellow students would comment on her speed. Still, she was a bit intimidated at first upon meeting Elmore, knowing the times the freshman had posted. 

“I heard about her crazy fast times and was amazed,” Tau said. “But we only needed to do one run together to connect. She’s a very fun person to be around so we’re all lucky to have her on the team.”

Whenever a workout or race gets tough, Tau reminds herself how good she will feel after completing them. 

“There’s always going to be that looming desire to stop, especially if you’re not having a good run,” she said. “So it’s nice to be able to think about how I will feel after finishing. I also remind myself I need to finish and do my role on the team because every person matters for points.”

Like Elmore, Tau got into running at an early age, entering her first San Jose Turkey Trot 5K when she was 8 or 9 years old. She’s finished the Turkey Trot every year since.

Sports reporter Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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