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CROSS-COUNTRY

Quest For Success

Corona del Mar Coach Brings Out Best in His Runners

October 10, 2000|DAN ARRITT

There's a quality that defines the Corona del Mar girls' cross-country team.

It's a perseverance that has allowed the squad to regroup after the graduation of its top runner, Liz Morse, and reclaim its role as the favorite to win Orange County, Southern Section and state titles.

It's an attitude that places individual accomplishments second to team goals, and records only meaningful if every team member contributes.

But what really separates Corona del Mar from other county teams is the perception of cross-country on campus: It's the thing to do. Approximately 20% of the girls at school participate.

The person behind this running machine is Bill Sumner, a walk-on coach at Corona del Mar since 1984, who also operates the successful Cal Coast adult track club out of his Newport Beach office.

Sumner has guided the boys and girls' teams at Corona del Mar to four state titles and nine other top-four finishes, making him among the most successful coaches in California.

"I would hate to think I'm the reason for our success," Sumner said. "But I'm a piece of the puzzle."

Corona del Mar is the only high school in the county that boasts a professional track coach, but teaching people how to run faster is only one of Sumner's skills. His ability to motivate runners of all abilities has helped his program grow, as well as develop marginal freshmen runners into top varsity ones.

"He sees potential in every single runner," senior Diana Hossfeld said. "When I was a freshman, I was kind of average and he gave me the confidence to run well. He cares about all the kids, not just the top ones."

Lindsey Yourman, another varsity runner, had played soccer since she was 5, but after only one season with Sumner, she gave up soccer to stick with running.

"We're very lucky," said Kim Yourman, Lindsey's mother. "He's so positive and a very effective leader."

A good memory hasn't hurt either. Some of his first-year runners are startled to hear Sumner call them by name, even though it's easy to feel lost among the 178 athletes who make up both the boys' and girls' teams.

Janice Newfield said her daughter, Jennifer, who is a first-year junior-varsity runner, recently got an unexpected tap on her shoulder.

"She had missed a couple of practices and he asked where she had been," Janice Newfield said. "Just the fact that he noticed made her feel special."

Sumner, 53, can also integrate decade's worth of running knowledge without making it feel as if his runners are attending a physics class. Included among his training methods are pre-race pasta parties and post-race visits to the ice cream parlor.

"He's a really good coach but he's fun too," senior Katie Quinlan said. "He's good at making the people who aren't that serious feel like they're part of the team."

Several varsity runners also said Sumner's listening ability plays a big hand in their success.

"Coach really listens and pays attention and knows how to react to what we say," senior Jenny Cummins said.

PEDAL TO THE METAL

Sumner figures the sweepstake race at the Orange County championships Saturday to be among the most competitive of the season for the Sea Kings and wants his runners to go all-out during the three-mile race through Irvine Regional Park.

The girls' sweepstake race, which begins at 9:30 a.m., includes defending state champions Woodbridge and Foothill, as well as Southern Section Division I powerhouse Esperanza and 1999 state finalists Santa Margarita and Brea Olinda.

"We kind of pick our battles each year," Sumner said. "Last season, it was [the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational] and San Lorenzo Valley was the only team to beat us all year."

Corona del Mar moved up to Division I for the Mt. SAC race last season, a move Sumner pulled again at the prestigious Stanford Invitational two weeks ago. The Sea Kings placed fourth in that race, which was the top finish among Southern Section teams.

"Our times have been similar to last season's," Hossfeld said. "The thing that were missing the most is the leadership that Liz gave us. She was such a leader, but we have the capability. We're just learning how to do it without Liz."

FLIP A COIN

Several teams and individuals have the potential to win the county boys' sweepstake race, which begins at 10:45 a.m.

Former Edison Coach Michael Munoz had his team skip the meet in recent years to focus on the Mt. SAC Invitational, which is usually scheduled the following weekend. But the Chargers, under Coach Erich Moreno, are entered this season and senior Scott Brandos should be near the lead.

Dana Hills and senior Devin Segal have legitimate shots at winning both the team and individual titles.

Santa Margarita returned its top eight runners from last season's team that advanced to the state finals, but has been slowed by a knee injury to its No. 3 runner, Mike Powers. His loss has lessened Santa Margarita's chances, but senior Steven Murray should be among the top finishers.

"I had be happy to finish in the top 10," Santa Margarita Coach Dave Zeitler said.

If Powers returns in time for the Southern Section finals, Zeitler said the Eagles have a good chance to win the Division II title. Without him, however, they might not qualify for the state finals.

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

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