In mid-September, George Payan, Santa Ana Valley High School's cross-country coach, revealed his grand plan.
Payan would limit his athletes' race schedules as well as the number of high-intensity workouts in hopes of lessening the chance of team burnout toward season's end.
"It's a chess game I'm playing," Payan said. "If it backfires, I'm to blame."
Maricela Benavides, Payan's best runner, would be the plan's focal point.
Benavides, who transferred to Santa Ana Valley from Estancia last year, was once a run-as-hard-as-you-can-every-day type.
Because of this, she often suffered late-season injuries, including a set of season-ending shin splints that forced her to walk sideways in November, 1986.
But after some lengthy heart-to-heart talks, Benavides accepted Payan's philosophy and his structured program. She has been running a successful course ever since.
"When I came to Valley, I was sure my (running) was going to go downhill," said Benavides, a senior. "But now, it's worked out perfect. Sometimes I can't believe it."
Though Benavides, The Times' girls' runner of the year, didn't attain the loftiest of Payan's goals--winning the Southern Section 4-A--she had the most consistently superior cross-country season of any Orange County girl.
Her best efforts include:
--The Woodbridge Invitational, where she ran the fastest time of the day for Orange County girls.
--All Century League competition. Benavides was undefeated throughout, winning the league championship by 25 seconds.
--The 4-A championships, in which she recorded the fastest county time (18 minutes 45 seconds) and led the Falcons to a second-place finish.
--The state championships, in which she finished 12th, and, again, had the fastest Orange County time (18:27 for 5,000 meters).
"I'm happy because all my dreams came true," Benavides said. "Last year, I raced so much, I got hurt and my mind was so tired. But this year, it was like everything was under control. Now I can't wait for track.
"I don't know how it all happened, but it's really great."
Perhaps Benavides never realized it was all according to plan.
GIRLS CROSS-COUNTRY FIRST TEAM
Maricela Benavides Santa Ana Valley Senior Andrea Caminiti Irvine Sophomore Sita Jones La Habra Senior Barbara Kozlowski Irvine Senior Maria Mendoza Santa Ana Senior Martha Pinto Katella Freshman Kim Robinson Newport Harbor Sophomore SECOND TEAM Laura Doering Villa Park Junior Kirsten Quigley Dana Hills Senior Heather Killeen Valencia Freshman Shannon Liddy El Toro Freshman Amy Robles Woodbridge Freshman Stacy Pando Newport Harbor Junior Maria Vargas Santa Ana Valley Junior