With mostly sophomores and juniors on its roster, most prep track aficionados expected the Muir High School girls to win the CIF state title next year.
In winning the state title last week at Cerritos College in Norwalk, the Mustangs finished a year ahead of schedule.
The Mustangs were hardly the favorite with only five qualifiers.
But Jim Brownfield, who also coached the Mustangs to a state title in 1985, said he never counted his team out.
"We had doped it out and there were 10 teams that had a legitimate chance to win and we figured out a way to win," he said.
In short, Brownfield knew that the Mustangs would need to get the maximum out of three individuals and two relay teams.
As the meet unfolded, the Mustangs couldn't have asked for a better set of circumstances to transpire. In winning the meet with 36 points--10 ahead of second-place Rio Mesa of Oxnard--Muir scored in every event it had hoped to score in while pre-meet contenders such as L.A. City champion Locke and defending state champion Bakersfield struggled.
"The kids just went out and did exactly what we needed to do to win," Brownfield said.
Muir was led by junior Inger Miller, who finished second to Rio Mesa's Angela Burnham in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and sophomore Taminika Terry, who finished fifth in the 200.
The Mustangs were also sharp in the relays, winning the 400 relay and finishing second in the 1,600.
The performance of Miller came as no surprise, considering that she and Burnham have been the top two sprinters in the state--maybe even the nation--all season.
Miller produced outstanding times of 11.46 seconds in the 100 and 23.86 in the 200, although she wasn't completely satisfied: "I was satisfied with my 200 race but I wasn't satisfied with my race in the 100."
"I thought she came off (at the start) OK," Brownfield said. "She just didn't win. But Inger was right up at her peak level despite a cold."
Perhaps more surprising to Brownfield was Terry and her time of 24.61 seconds in the 200, an event in which the coach felt she needed to score at least one point.
"We said Taminika had to give us a surprise point," Brownfield said. "We didn't think she'd get better than seventh or eighth and she got fifth. I think those two points crushed Rio Mesa."
From Terry's perspective, the team's fortunes turned for the better when Muir won the 400 relay--the first running event of the meet--in a swift time of 46.46 seconds.
"After the sprint relay I didn't see any more roadblocks for us," Terry said. "The pressure was off a bit. Winning it felt good because we had good handoffs and we ran smart and we had our fastest times."
Going into the final event of the meet, the 1,600 relay, Rio Mesa had a chance to catch the Mustangs. Muir entered the event with 28 points to Rio Mesa's 24.
But the Mustangs used a strong anchor leg from Miller to finish second to Hawthorne and secure the title. Muir finished in 3:47.04 and Hawthorne in 3:46.59.
"We kept getting stronger as the meet went on," Brownfield said. "When we got down to the mile relay, we knew we just had to stay ahead of Rio Mesa."
It was a much different ending for the Mustangs than last year, when Muir had a chance to win the title going into the 1,600 relay but wound up fourth.
"We had some breaks that went against us last year, but this year we had the opportunity and we just took advantage of it," said Muir assistant coach Mike Knowles.
"It's a team of young veterans," Brownfield said. "We're young but we came through like veterans. Our team ran smart and they ran consistent."
With the return of Miller and Terry next season, along with sprinters such as sophomores Akua Sutherland and Staci Moore and freshman Shireen Brookhart, the Mustangs will undoubtedly be expected to win the title again.
"I told the team that we're going to have an opportunity that teams don't often have," Brownfield said.
"It's one thing to win a championship. It's another thing repeating it."
"They know what it's going to take and they're already preparing for that," Knowles said. "They know that every time they go out on the track they're going to hear, 'Muir, state champions.' "
"At this point they don't want to think about that," Brownfield said. "They just want to savor this a little."