In its final team event of the season, the Petaluma High School boys cross country team used the North Coast Section meet as a measuring stick for improvement.

Led by seniors Ryan Douglas, Duncan Gardner and Tom Healy, the Trojans impressively tied for sixth place overall as a team in the NCS Division III race on the sloppy, mud-slick 3.1-mile Hayward High School course last Saturday. The previous year, the PHS boys placed 13th on the same course in the same meet in more ideal running conditions.

Twenty teams competed at the NCS meet. The top four teams qualified for the state meet in Fresno on Saturday.

"From where we started this season to take sixth place in probably the toughest division in Northern California, I'm very happy with that," said Trojans' head coach Cole Yungert. "If you had told me we had a shot at going to the state meet (as a team) at the beginning of this season, I would have jumped off a cliff."

Douglas, the team's co-captain who was ranked eighth in the state in Division III entering the race, paced Petaluma, finishing sixth in a field of 132 runners with a time of 16:16. That effort was nine seconds faster and 18 places higher than he finished last season on a faster track. Douglas, a four-time All-Sonoma County League runner, will represent the Trojans at the state meet.

Gardner made the most dramatic improvement in time from his performance in the 2011 NCS meet, lowering his time (17:14) by 33 seconds and moving up 57 positions to a 34th place finish this year. He crossed the finish line behind PHS teammates Casey Kramer, a junior, and senior Kevin Poteracke. Kramer was 20th overall with a time of 16:50 and Poteracke, who started this fall season on the Trojans' football team before a season-ending injury, placed 29th in 17:04, a remarkable achievement given he had only six weeks of cross country training.

Dean Douglas placed 70th for the Trojans with a time (18:31) that was the fifth fastest among freshmen in the field. Team co-captain Healy, despite slipping out of and losing one of his running shoes during the race, followed teammate Kiernan Clegg to the finish line in 82nd place, 47 places higher than last year's NCS meet.

For the PHS girls, senior team captain Kirby Franklin was the Trojans' top finisher, recording a time of 20:31 to place 38th in the 112-runner field. Freshman Sarah Stypa was the next Petaluma runner to finish with a time of 20:50 — the ninth fastest time clocked by a freshman in the race — which was good enough for 46th place.

Sophomore Jessica O'Hanlon (60th, 21:45) and senior Nancy Larsen (66th, 22:14) followed Stypa while Trojans' senior Hailey Lynch capped her PHS cross country career by placing 70th, 10 places better than 2011. Freshman Alison Roper rounded out Petaluma's entries on Saturday with an 82nd place showing in a time of 23:06.

Ryan Douglas and Franklin were named team most valuable runners for their respective teams on Sunday in a team awards ceremony at Valley Vista Elementary School. Kiernan and Larsen were chosen as the most improved runners and Healy and Samantha Royal were handed the coaches' awards by Yungert and assistant coach Bjorn Gripenburg.