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CROSS COUNTRY

Valencia Is No Longer Run of the Mill

October 03, 2000|DAN ARRITT

LeeRay O'Campo ran cross-country as a freshman at Valencia High. He just didn't run much with the team.

"We'd go on long runs and I'd just cut through school," O'Campo said. "Then I'd go back and play soccer."

O'Campo's attitude toward cross-country wasn't necessarily off the beaten path back then. The Tigers had won only one Orange League title since 1986 and hadn't advanced past the Southern Section preliminaries since 1987. Commitment was fleeting, at best.

Fast forward three years and the situation has reversed. The Tigers have developed into one of the top teams in the county, and O'Campo has emerged as their No. 2 runner, despite skipping his sophomore and junior seasons.

O'Campo said much of team's success is attributable to sophomore Juan Robles, the top runner for Valencia who won league titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters last spring. O'Campo said Robles' work ethic and will to succeed has spread from runner to runner.

"I always follow Juan Robles," O'Campo said. " I would never be at this level right now if it wasn't for him. He's so competitive."

Robles also credited Coach Pat Hadley, in her fourth season with the boys' team and fifth with the girls. It was Hadley who added speed workouts to the Tigers' training regimen and increased the team's weekly mileage from 20 to between 40 and 50.

"The most we ever ran before was five miles in a day," Robles said. "Now that we're running with her, we're putting in more miles."

Hadley's dedication and knowledge have rubbed off on the team, which has begun coaching itself. Because Hadley must manage both teams during practice and meets, team members take turns setting the pace in training runs, leading warmups before a race and setting up the course.

"They have a huge buy-in, they're not just doing what I tell them," Hadley said. "It's not like a dictatorship, it's like a partnership."

Most of the team has participated in summer workouts the last three years, which has helped provide unity and fitness for the upcoming seasons.

"I think the last three summers have made the difference," Hadley said. "Ever since they've come to summer training, they've gotten the rewards."

The payoff began to roll in two seasons ago, when the Tigers won the league title. They defended it last season, finished 12th in the sweepstakes race at the Orange County Championships and seventh at the Southern Section Division II finals.

The Tigers are currently ranked fifth in Division II and 10th in the county, the only team at the school ranked among the county's leaders this fall.

"Newcomers have been attracted by the attention the cross-country team has gotten," Hadley said. "That has led to a little more depth than last year, when we had maybe six people running within 30 seconds.

"This year we have Juan, who has really emerged as a front-runner and is probably one of the top 10 runners in Orange County. Then we have another six or seven guys who are just where the other guys were last year. The difference is having a front-runner."

TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE

Hadley, 41, was a four-sport athlete in college at Wisconsin-River Falls before venturing West. She played for a California state champion women's club soccer team that went on to represent the United States at the first women's World Cup in Brazil in 1986.

"[The tournament] was unofficial," Hadley said. "The U.S. didn't send a team, so we petitioned to represent the U.S. and finished second behind West Germany."

Hadley then turned her interest to mountain biking and became a two-time age-group champion in cross-country racing.

Hadley's latest interest is adventure racing, a cross-country triathlon that mixes in a variety of obstacles, such as Crisco-covered walls and carrying your bike across cargo nets that hover above steep ravines. Hadley finished seventh at a recent event on Catalina Island.

"Being a runner my whole life has helped me in every other sport I've done," Hadley said. "I love being fit, but I also like branching off and challenging myself with other things."

FREE WHEELS

Australian Michellie Jones, who won a silver medal in the women's triathlon at the Summer Olympics last month, has been donating used shoes to the Valencia cross-country team for more than a year, Hadley said.

"She only wears race shoes once, so she gets a room full of shoes," Hadley said. "We help her out and she helps us out."

Hadley connected with Jones through a mutual friend, who noticed the pile of shoes in Jones' Carlsbad home and knew some of Hadley's runners could benefit from free shoes.

"She'll call us every couple of months and we'll go down to Carlsbad and get a boatload of shoes."

LOOKING AHEAD

The Central Park Invitational in Huntington Beach highlights this weekend's schedule, but there are a number of competitive league meets this week as well.

The Sea View League is holding a five-team cluster meet on Friday at Irvine Park. The Newport Harbor boys' team is coming off a victory Saturday in the Division II race at the prestigious Sanford Invitational. Woodbridge is the team to beat on the girls' side, but might get a push from Newport Harbor.

Other competitive meets on Thursday include the Corona del Mar and University girls' teams at Mason Park in Irvine, Marina visiting Fountain Valley in a Sunset League boys' meet, and Rosary and Mater Dei at Acacia Park in a Serra League girls' meet.

If you have an item or idea for the cross-country report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at dan.arritt@latimes.com

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