For those who scoff at the notion that cross-country is a team sport, Terrence Mahon of La Habra High School would like a moment to counter-scoff.
"People don't understand. It's a lot harder (for a top individual) to race without a strong team," said Mahon, who ran for a good team, but certainly not a great one. The Highlanders tied for second place in the Freeway League.
Step inside Mahon's racing flats for a spell. Here you are, standing at the starting line of a major race, let's say the state championship in November.
Because your team was eliminated three weeks before in the Southern Section preliminaries, you stand by yourself in the individual chute.
You're surrounded by top teams that huddle together before the start, sharing strategies and words of encouragement.
You wait patiently, perhaps wave to a parent or coach on the side. The other individual runners wait with you, but you are alone.
"It's like track, almost," Mahon said. "You're by yourself. You have no one to count on."
This was Mahon's plight for much of the season.
Still, Mahon, The Times' boys' cross-country runner of the year, dominated Orange County competition this season.
Mahon was the first Orange County finisher (fifth overall in 15 minutes 29 seconds for 5,000 meters) at the state meet.
He was the only Orange County runner to win a Southern Section (3-A) individual title.
In late September, Mahon outlasted a tough Mike Esparza of Newbury Park to win the Sonora Invitational. And at the Orange County Championships, Mahon broke away from the leaders at the one-mile mark and defeated the second-place finisher, Valencia's Igor Daza, by 19 seconds.
Most impressive, though, may be that while some runners, such as those at Dana Hills and Corona del Mar, were caught up in a season-long battle to be the top team that fueled their motivation to excel, Mahon basically had to motivate himself.
"I think I've had to race with a lot more intensity than some other (top) runners," Mahon said.
"When you're an individual, sometimes you have to kill yourself in a race just to qualify for the next one. You can't afford to get lazy."
FIRST TEAM Jim Geerlings Newport Harbor Senior Igor Daza Valencia Senior Eddie Lavelle Corona del Mar Junior Terrence Mahon La Habra Senior Brett Schultz Canyon Senior Mike Tansley Dana Hills Junior Shanon Winkelman Marina Senior SECOND TEAM Marty Barratti Buena Park Senior Javier Barrera Dana Hills Senior Oliver Bohlman El Dorado Senior Roger Nava Santa Ana Junior Jim Robbins Corona del Mar Senior Jimmy Rodriguez Santa Ana Valley Senior Fermin Segura Dana Hills Senior