With driving rain pelting her Saturday in the North Coast Section Division I girls cross country championship race, Amador Valley High distance running star Jena Pianin was able to make an critical analytical decision.
"I realized that when I had to pick up the pace, my feet would slip out from under me," said Pianin, a senior. "I had to find harder, dryer surfaces where I could use it to my advantage to push the pace."
Pianin was able to stay in front from the first 200 yards of the race all the way to the finish line, defending her title with an impressive time of 17 minutes, 56 seconds for the three-mile Hayward High course.
Her analytical abilities during a race could be tested Saturday against an outstanding Division I field in the California Interscholastic Federation state cross country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno.
The Division I girls race starts at 10:05 a.m. The meet begins with the Division V boys race at 8:30 a.m. and ends with the Division IV girls race at 1:20 p.m.
"She's good at analyzing advice and using it," said Amador Valley coach Jason Oswalt about Pianin. "She's a savvy racer and a savvy person."
The Division I girls field includes Simi Valley's Sarah Baxter and defending champion Hagen Reedy of Buchanan-Clovis. Baxter, the 2011 Gatorade California girls cross country runner of the year, won the Division II state title last year as a sophomore and the Division I race as a freshman.
This October, Baxter smashed the legendary Mt. San Antonio College three-mile course record with a time of 16:00 at the Mt. SAC Invitational.
Last year, Pianin had a breakthrough race at the state championships. She was ninth at the two-mile mark but ran a very strong last 1.1 miles and placed fifth, becoming only the second East Bay girl since 1989 to place in the top five in the Division I state championship race.
"There were four runners in front of her, and she ran a faster last mile than three of them," Oswalt said.
But Pianin can find flaws in that race, pointing to the second half of the first mile and the first part of mile two.
"I was too complacent with how I was running," she said. "There is always something you can improve upon in your running. Obviously I was really pleased with my performance last year ... but it's a new year and I want more and I want to improve, not just for me but also for my team.
"I've always strived to be an athlete that shows that Amador is a great school for distance running."
Her team, which finished second and qualified for the state championships, was a big motivating force for her in last Saturday's NCS Division I championship race.
"I knew the points would be so tight for the team score, and I couldn't let my team down," she said. Amador Valley tied with Monte Vista, but Kim Sannajust, the Dons' No. 6 runner clinched them the section's final Division I team state qualifying spot.
Pianin said that Saturday's race will be the last of her high school cross country career.
"My main strategy for state is to run smart and run more aggressively than last year," she said.