Desiree Bracey and Dustin James sat in the near-empty stands of UC Irvine's track stadium one afternoon this week, laughing and teasing each other.
"The true story is, I wanted him to come to school with me," said Bracey, a sophomore sprinter who won the Big West Conference titles in the 100 and 200 meters last weekend.
The problem was, James, who was still a senior at Ontario High School last year, already had been accepted by California and UCLA but had not applied to UC Irvine in time.
Bracey, already getting a taste of separation from James during her freshman year, decided to take things into her own hands.
"Run track," she told James, her boyfriend of about three years. James had played only football and basketball at Ontario High School before that, but he said he'd try it.
Then Bracey went to work at Irvine, knowing that an athlete could be admitted after the regular deadline if he were recruited.
She started hanging around the track office, showing the coaches newspaper clippings with James' times in them.
"It's not \o7 my\f7 fault your boyfriend didn't send in the application," said Danny Williams, the women's track coach.
"Look, he's doing good," she said.
As James' times got faster, the coaches started paying attention.
Last weekend, as Bracey prepared to run the 100 meters, she watched her top recruit win a race for UC Irvine.
James, recruited to Irvine after only one season of high school track, won the Big West title in the 400 meters in 47.03 seconds as a freshman.
Bracey smiled at the thought of it.
"I didn't know he'd be as \o7 good\f7 as he is," she said.
James, who also placed second in the 200 meters and ran legs on the winning 400-meter relay and 1,600-meter relay teams, couldn't have expected so much himself.
"Being a freshman, you're not expected to do a lot," he said. "To win was mind-blowing. I was happy."
It has made for an interesting year, and a more pleasant one for Bracey and James than the last.
"When I came here, I didn't have a car," Bracey said. "I didn't see him the whole track season."
James shook his head.
"That was a \o7 long \f7 track season," he said.
Bracey thought back to the few times they got together last spring.
"We did get to see each other on his recruiting trip," she said.
This year, they usually train at the same time, and most of the time they compete at the same meets.
"One time, the top sprinters were going to Arizona and the others were going to Fresno," James said. "She told me she was glad I did good so I could go with her. She said, 'I'm glad you're not sorry (at track).' "
Bracey, who went to Pius X High School and met James in 1988 at a church youth meeting, has made her mark quickly at Irvine, setting a school record in the 100 Saturday with a time of 11.73, which was also a provisional NCAA qualifying time, meaning she could make the NCAA meet at Eugene, Ore., if the field isn't filled by faster times.
"If she goes, I'll try to go just to watch her," James said. He'll also be competing this summer, hoping to make the U.S. junior national team. If he does, she'll try to follow him where they send him to compete if she can.
"A lot of money spent, but it will be worth it," she said.
All told, things have worked out a lot better than they would have if James had gone to Colorado to run track, as he was thinking of doing after his early success.
"That's a \o7 lot \f7 farther than 45 miles," Bracey said.
Instead, they are so close that they could race against each other, if they wanted.
"We raced once. Remember that time?" James said. "She stopped. I let her get a lead, and she stopped."
"I didn't want to embarrass you in front of all those people," she said.
The women's cross-country team has received the school's award for the highest team grade-point average for the sixth consecutive year, earning the award with a 3.089 team GPA.
Eight members of that team will be among 92 Irvine athletes honored as Big West/UCI scholar athletes at an upcoming banquet. Requirements for the award include maintaining a 3.0 GPA during the past three quarters, or for freshmen, a 3.2 over the past two quarters, as well as lettering in a sport.
Steve Florentine, a senior on the men's volleyball team, was named most valuable player at the team's banquet Sunday. Chad Milling, a sophomore, was named most improved. John Loo won the coach's award, and senior Dave Pettker was named most inspirational.
James Davis, a senior who along with Pettker helped found the team on the club level five years ago, was given the captain's award.
The baseball team is awaiting word on the budget crisis in uncomfortable suspense, hoping the just-completed season does not prove to be its last.
Even though the team's 24-32 record (6-15 in the Big West) was disappointing, several Anteaters finished the season with notable achievements.