For the second consecutive season, Mission Viejo's Mark Gleason put together arguably the best performance in the county by a boys' cross-country runner. And for the second consecutive year, Gleason's accomplishments have earned him The Times Orange County runner of the year distinction.
While he didn't win the Southern Section title (he finished third) as he did last season, a week later he won the state Division II title. He posted the fastest time of the day (15 minutes 16 seconds) over the 3.1-mile course at Fresno's Woodward Park last month.
He is only the second runner from the county to win an individual state title. St. Margaret's Ryan Downey won the Division V title in 1996.
"I knew I wouldn't be favored to win state because I didn't win the section race," said Gleason, a senior. "After the section race, I just had to put everything behind me. I had major doubts deep down, but I had to block them out.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 20, 1997 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 11 Sports Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Prep races--A story Wednesday about Mission Viejo cross-country runner Mark Gleason incorrectly reported his performance in the Southern Section finals and the team's finish in the Division II finals this season. Mission Viejo finished second and Gleason won the section individual title last season.
"I just reminded myself to stay relaxed. On the final stretch I found myself in second, and then my coach [Gene Gurule] reminded me that this is where you turn it on if you want it."
But Gleason's desire and determination at the beginning of the season might have been what really carried him to the state individual title.
"In comparison to last year, my goals were to win [section] finals and I just stopped running," Gleason said. "This year, it didn't matter to me if I won every race because I was focused on winning state and going to nationals."
Gleason finished 15th (16:06) in the National Championships race and was named to the third-team All-American squad, a week after qualifying with a fifth-place finish (15:36) at the West Regional at Woodward Park this month.
"It goes beyond a great feeling to accomplish a goal set at the beginning of the season," Gleason said. "It's amazing how long-term goals really come to pass when you work at them."
Even though he may not have set out to win every race, Gleason did manage to win most of them. He started the season by winning the Las Vegas Invitational in 13:49, a course record, and went on to win the Division III race at the Woodbridge Invitational in 14:58.
He also was undefeated in South Coast League dual meets and won the league title for the second consecutive season in 15:02, another course record, over the three-mile run at Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
Perhaps the only low point for Gleason was that his team was unable to win a Southern Section title. Mission Viejo finished third at the section finals and fourth at state.
Despite the disappointment, Gleason has few regrets.
"I'd be afraid to go back to change anything," he said, "because I might not be state champion."