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These Two Stepped Forward to Join 800 Club

Boys' track and field: Capistrano Valley's Kris Monte and Tustin's Alonso Smith are among state's best.

February 19, 2001|DAN ARRITT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Volunteers for the 800-meter race are difficult to find.

Those who land in the event are usually fast-starting, slow-finishing distance runners, sent by desperate coaches hoping to salvage additional team points.

Others are slow-twitch sprinters who gave up the starting blocks in hopes of staying with the distance runners long enough to turn the final straightaway into a mad dash.

Capistrano Valley's Kris Monte and Tustin's Alonso Smith came to the event from similar backgrounds. They tried the 800 on the advice of others. Now they're among the state's best.

Monte was known more for his speed and quickness on the Capistrano Valley boys' soccer team during his sophomore and junior seasons. He ran track to keep in shape and proved to be a better-than-average sprinter last spring.

He tried his first 800 midway through last season, hoping to steal some points from perennial South Coast League favorite Mission Viejo.

Although he knew nothing about running the 800, he won with ease. He won again at the South Coast League finals a few weeks later, but never expected his season to go much further than that.

He qualified for the Southern Section Division I championships by running a personal-best time of 1 minute 56.30 seconds at the preliminaries, then took third at the finals, setting a school record and trimming another second off his time.

Monte's time also gave him the final qualifying spot for the Masters meet, by .05. He took advantage of the opportunity, surging from seventh to fifth in the final straightaway and stealing the last qualifying berth into the state finals.

His time at the preliminaries was the slowest among the nine who qualified for the final, but he again took advantage of the opportunity.

Faced with the biggest race of the season, Monte capped it with his best performance yet, speeding by several runners to finish fourth in 1:53.26, the fourth consecutive week he trimmed a second off his time.

"Kris is an incredible competitor," said Gary Gross, Monte's running coach at Capistrano Valley. "He doesn't have any bad races."

Smith found his home in the 800 after having marginal success in the distance events.

He showed signs of developing into a great miler early in his high school career. His tall, lanky frame and long, effortless stride seemed to swallow up those in his path. His brother, Daniel, also had a successful cross-country career at Tustin, leading the Tillers to Orange County and Southern Section titles in 1996.

Coaches at Tustin noticed the impressive splits Alonso posted through the opening laps of the 1,600 and decided to add the 800 to his schedule.

His breakthrough race came early last season at the Surf City Invitational in Huntington Beach, when he won the 800 in 1:55.42, more than two seconds faster than his personal-best time achieved at the Southern Section finals in 1999. That time also put him atop the state leaders in the event, and he bettered it with a victory at the Orange County Championships three weeks later (1:52.87).

Smith won a Southern Section Division II title at Cerritos College in May, then ran his most impressive race the following week at the Masters, winning in 1:53.77, more than a half second faster than eventual state champion Mike Serratos of Chino Don Lugo.

Smith capped the season with a seventh-place finish at state, where the third through eighth runners each finished within .82 seconds.

Smith recently completed another successful cross-country season for the Tillers, finishing fifth at the Orange County Championships and defending his Golden West League title.

He said he's anxious to get back to the state finals, knowing six of the nine runners at the starting line last season will return. Smith said his ultimate goal is to earn a scholarship, hopefully to either Arizona or Arizona State.

"Getting into college is probably the most important thing to me right now," he said.

Monte, who has given up soccer to focus on track, would love to see the same faces return to the state finals. He hopes to break 1:51 this season, which might be what it takes to win a title.

Only three county runners have won a state title in the 800 and none has broken 1:51 since 1984.

Monte admits he's still trying to find a comfortable pace for the first 600 meters, but if he can knock a second or two off his opening lap, breaking 1:51 is a reality.

"I'm going to try and run the first lap a little faster," Monte said. "Last year I was just running even splits."

Monte, who missed the Orange County Championships last season because he was on a church retreat, expects to participate on April 7. Monte said he doesn't plan to run many 800s during the regular season. He wants to run 400s to build his speed and 1600s to aid his endurance.

His ultimate goal, like Smith's, is to continue running in college. Monte said he's really hoping to run the 800 and 1,500 for Azusa Pacific, which is known for its strong track and field program.

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