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Going the Distance

City Power Belmont Takes New Approach Toward State Cross-Country Success

October 22, 1998|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Belmont High has won 13 City Section boys' cross-country championships in 16 years, creating an aura of invincibility among its City brethren.

That kind of record doesn't mean much in the state championships, however, unless a team performs well in the annual meet at Woodward Park in Fresno.

Everado Silva, Belmont's third-year coach, knows that.

Silva ran on City title-winning Belmont teams in 1982 and '83, but the Sentinels haven't raced well in the state championships since the City began competing in that meet 10 years ago.

Belmont, winner of the 1997 City championship with a perfect 15-point total, placed third behind Long Beach Poly and Grass Valley Nevada Union in the state Division I final last year, but the Sentinels finished fourth, eighth three times, ninth, 13th and 14th in their seven previous appearances.

"I think teams from other sections have looked at us and said, 'They run well against their own, but when they run against a wider variety of teams, they don't perform,' " Silva said.

Belmont, the No. 6-ranked Division I team in the state, will have another opportunity to change the perception--and also get a good preview of the state championships--this weekend when the Sentinels run in the team sweepstakes race at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational in Walnut. An estimated 475 teams and 14,000 runners will take part in 88 races during the two-day meet, one of the largest in the nation.

The top 10 Division I teams in the state will be in the boys' sweepstakes field, including No. 1 Long Beach Poly, No. 2 Santa Ana and No. 3 Yucaipa. The race begins Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

"I think Mt. SAC will be a good test for us," Silva said. "So far nobody has really challenged us this year."

Belmont defeated No. 7-ranked Nevada Union, 41-61, in the Nevada Union Invitational last month and routed second-place Canyon Country Canyon, 23-117, in the Kenny Staub Invitational in Glendale on Oct. 3.

"That gave us a lot of confidence," Belmont junior Humberto Vargas said of the two victories.

Vargas, senior Henry Briseno and junior Henok Mulugeta placed 1-2-3 in the Staub meet after finishing first, fifth and 12th in the City championships last year.

"They've been our top three runners all year," Silva said. "But we have about nine or 10 guys competing for the seven spots on the team."

Experience, depth and a summer training regimen of 70 miles a week has Belmont running at a different level this year, Silva said.

So does a change in attitude.

Belmont no longer puts forth a 100% effort in every race, as it did in the past. Instead, the Sentinels will maximize their effort in half a dozen races this season and use smaller meets as workouts.

"In the past, the attitude at Belmont was that you ran all-out every time you raced, no matter how small the meet," Silva said. "I think that was part of the reason why Belmont didn't run well in the state meet. The emphasis was always on winning the City finals and whatever happened after that happened."

Winning a fourth consecutive City title is still a big goal for Belmont, but a state title would bring even more respect to the Sentinel program.

"Winning the state meet would be very important to us," Silva said. "I think it would prove that we can run well against anybody, not just against the City."

On Saturday at Mt. SAC, the boys' team sweepstakes race will be the most talent-laden race from a team standpoint. But the girls' sweepstakes races will include five of the top nine returning runners in the West region, topped by sophomore Sara Bei of Santa Rosa Montgomery.

Bei, the defending state Division III champion, burst onto the national scene last year when she outkicked Elaine Canchola of Nordhoff for eighth place in the West region championships.

Bei then finished 10th in the national finals in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and went on to win the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in the state track and field championships at Cerritos College in June.

Bei, senior Lauren Fleshman of Canyon Country Canyon and junior Sara Gorton of Mountain Pointe in Phoenix will meet in the individual sweepstakes race Saturday at 10:10 a.m.

Fleshman finished 14th in the 1997 national championships and Gorton was 18th, but the undefeated Bei will be favored after defeating Santa Rosa senior Trina Cox twice this season.

Cox, the defending state Division I champion, won the individual sweepstakes race at Mt. SAC last year, but will run against junior Abby Miller of Grass Valley in Henderson, Nev., in the team sweepstakes event at 10:30.

Miller finished 13th in the West region championships last year after placing third in the 1996 national championships.

Gorton, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and ran a leg on Mountain Pointe's victorious 3,200-relay team in the Arizona state 5-A Division track championships in May, is scheduled to race twice in 19 hours this weekend.

She will compete in the Tempe Union High School District championships Friday afternoon, fly to Ontario that night and race against the likes of Bei and Fleshman on Saturday morning.

The Division III, IV and V sweepstakes races will highlight the first day of the meet Friday.

Rosemead Bosco Tech, Nordhoff and Sierra Madre Maranatha, the defending state Division III, IV and V champions, will run in the boys' races.

The girls' entries will be headed by La Canada, the defending state Division III champion and ranked 16th in the nation by Harrier magazine.

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