SAN DIEGO — Last turn in the San Diego Section 800 meters finals. Mark Senior's lungs were burning, and he just didn't feel like trying to catch Francis O'Neill of San Pasqual, who had surprised a lot of people at Balboa Stadium and taken the lead.
Why should I burn myself out? I just kick back and take second and go to state anyway.
But as the two come out of the turn, something snapped.
"I came down that straightaway, and I heard all the people screaming," Senior recalled after the race Saturday. "I thought, 'Why should I finish second? Why waste four years of hard work?' "
Senior shifted gears and went by O'Neill. His eyes were fixed on the electronic clock at the finish.
When he crossed the line, Senior said he was sure he had run under 1 minute 51.1 seconds, the section record Bob Hose set in the same stadium 24 years ago. But the electronic timer revealed that Senior, a senior at Mt. Miguel, had actually run 1:51.77, short of the record but fastest in the state this year.
Senior's mark was the third-fastest ever run by a high school boy in San Diego County and helped the Mt. Miguel boys' team win the overall team title by one point Saturday. Morse finished second with 44 points.
Led by Stacy Thompson, who ran a personal- and county-best 44.59 to win the 300-meter low hurdles, Morse won its third consecutive girls' title with 54 points.
Kira Jorgensen's meet record in the 3,200 and Laura Hughes' victories in the shotput and discus were the best girls' performances on a day when many races were run into a headwind on the home stretch.
The boys' title wasn't decided until the last race. Morse led by one point before the 1,600-meter relay, but Mt. Miguel had the fastest time in San Diego County this season. Whoever finished higher would win the title.
Tied after two legs, Mt. Miguel's Kevin Jones gave Senior a 20-yard lead. Senior held off Morse's Michael Stevenson, who ran a 46.9 anchor, to win in 3:18.37.
"I knew that I had to give him that lead for us to win the title," said Jones, who will sign a letter of intent with the University of Arizona Tuesday. "Nothing against Mark, but Stevenson is so tough. . . . People have predicted that we would win a section title for four years. We finally did it."
Senior surprised no one with a win in the 800 meters.
The final turn of the 800 was not the first time he had thought about giving up. He almost didn't come out for track at all this season.
"I had a lot of negatives last year," Senior said. 'I was disenchanted. Track wasn't fun.
"I woke up one morning, and I said, 'I'm in good shape, I'm strong. Why not?' "
Two weeks after he ran a state-leading 1:53.09 at the Arcadia Invitational on April 9, Senior thought about quitting again before a dual meet against El Capitan. He had not received any offers from major colleges. And, just like the year before, he felt like he was being snubbed by friends and family.
"People at school didn't realize the effort I was putting in," said Senior, who has since received an offer to run at San Diego State. "It seemed like nobody cared."
Senior said he re-dedicated himself and kept going. The final 100 meters of the Saturday's race made it worth it.
"That race proved to everyone that I could do it," Senior said.
O'Neill's second-place time (1:52.55) was almost overshadowed, but it was the 12th-fastest in section history and in the top 10 in the state this season.
O'Neill's effort was more impressive in that less than an hour before the 800 began, he held off a late charge by Crawford's Goshu Tadese and won the 1,600 meters (4:18.23).
About 40 minutes after the 800, O'Neill passed Tadese in the 3,200 meters and tried to stay with eventual winner Jason Salber of University City, but there was nothing left.
"I just looked at the back of his jersey," said O'Neill, who plans to run only the 1,600 at state.
Jorgensen just had to worry about the 1,600 and 3,200. After winning those two, the junior from Rancho Buena Vista has now won five track titles.
The 1,600 was easy. Her time (4:58.11) was 13 seconds faster than second-place finisher Michelle Keim of San Pasqual.
A showdown between Jorgensen and Kristi Bache of University of San Diego High in the 3,200 never emerged. Jorgensen went out too fast. Her time broke the meet record (10:41.44) set by Tina Allen of Santana ran in 1982.
Bache finished behind Kristina Hand of Fallbrook in the 800 for the fourth consecutive year. Hand's time was 2:13.37; Bache was second at 2:14.19.
Hughes, named the girls' field athlete of the meet, improved on her best by 10 inches, winning the shotput with a county-best mark of 43-10. She also won the discus with a county-best 134-1.
Brent Noon, a sophomore from Fallbrook, had five puts over 60 feet to win the shotput with a best of 62-2 1/2, short of his season best by an inch. Noon, the top boys' field athlete, won the discus (167-9) by more than 20 feet.
Other double winners included:
* Sorii Epps of Patrick Henry, who won the 100 in 12.62 and 200 in 25.81, and was named the top girls track athlete.
* LaFrania West of Grossmont, winner of the long jump (17-6) and triple jump (39-7).
Stevenson, who won the 400 (47.88) and finished third in the 200 (22.47), was named the boys top track athlete.