If you didn't hear anything about Roman Morales during the past track season, it's because the Ventura High senior spent much of the winter on the bench during the Cougars' soccer games.
"As an inexperienced junior he didn't play much," said Bill Tokar, the cross-country coach at Ventura, "and didn't do too much (running) between cross-country and track."
Now, after a summer of intensive training, Morales sheds his opponents almost as easily as he did his shin guards and cleats.
In the Mt. San Antonio College cross-country invitational last Saturday at Mt. SAC, Morales won the individual sweepstakes race in a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 23.6 seconds on the challenging three-mile course.
"I've never had a good race there," said Morales, whose previous best was 16:07. "I was just doing soccer for fun."
Tokar said that Saturday's victory was a morale booster for Morales.
"Every race he runs this year he gets more confidence," he said. "We just haven't been to a lot of the bigger races."
A lack of big-meet experience didn't seem to affect Morales, however.
After 1 1/2 miles, he pulled away from Paul Eley of Mills High in Millbrae and Venice's Danny Jordan to win by 13 seconds. Eley clocked 15:36 for second place and Jordan (15:41) faded to fourth.
"From there on I just tried racing myself and my times," Morales said.
While the Camarillo boys' team, ranked No. 1 in the state, was savoring its 65-117 victory over No. 2 Concord De La Salle in the team sweepstakes race, Shannon Brusca, the Scorpions' fifth runner Saturday, was pulling for another team.
On their way back to Camarillo, Brusca and Co. listened attentively to a radio broadcast of the USC-Notre Dame football game, won by the Fighting Irish, 28-24.
Brusca, an avid Notre Dame fan, found himself on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage from his teammates and Coach Mike Smith.
"Most of us have turned into either SC, Pittsburgh or Air Force fans just to get to Shannon," Smith joked.
Smith wasn't laughing, though, when he was standing at the finish line at Mt. SAC totaling the score of his top five runners.
"You saved us!" Smith yelled at Brusca when the junior, normally Camarillo's No. 6 runner, finished in 21st place (16:07.6)--the fifth and final scorer for the Scorpions.
Junior Josh Gerry, who usually runs in the No. 5 position, was hampered by bronchitis and finished 108th.
"I just hope that Josh gets better before this is all over," Smith said.
Even though seniors Abe Valdez (15:14.4) and Derek Kite (15:33.4) recorded personal bests at Mt. SAC, and Chad Malesich (15:59.5) equaled his own record, Smith said that his Scorpions feel they can run faster.
"I don't think anyone is completely satisfied with what they did Saturday," he said. "They're hungry. There are some things out there that we want to accomplish that we haven't accomplished yet."
Smith was talking about winning 4-A and state Division I titles.
Camarillo was third in the 4-A final in 1986 and '87 and second last year. It also has placed fourth in the state Division I championships the past two years.
"We didn't think about Mt. SAC that much," Valdez said. "It seemed like just another invitational. It wasn't anything.
"We're just gearing up for CIF and state. It seems kind of easy now. I mean, at Mt. SAC we killed everyone."