Michael Haddan of Irvine Woodbridge High is having an exceptional cross-country season for someone who has always competed in the sport primarily to get in shape for track.
Fact is, the sophomore is having an outstanding season for any high school cross-country runner, no matter his motivation.
Haddan capped a fine freshman season with an 18th-place finish in the Southern Section Division II finals, but he is performing at a much higher level this year.
He had the fastest time in the Laguna Hills Invitational on Sept. 8 and in the Woodbridge Invitational on Saturday.
His 14-minute 55-second clocking over the three-mile course at Woodbridge High shattered the sophomore course record of 15:14 set by David Lopez of Glendale Hoover in 1994 and was nine seconds faster than anyone else in the talent-laden meet.
"I didn't think I was going to be running this fast this early in the season," said the unassuming Haddan. "I wanted to break 15 at the end of the season, but I never expected to do it this early."
Superb strength and speed have contributed to Haddan's success, but so has a tough mental outlook.
"A lot of kids lose their focus when they get tired," said Woodbridge Coach George Varvas. "But not Michael. He's able to stay focused and push himself."
The scary thing for Haddan's opponents is that cross-country has always been his No. 2 sport.
He placed fifth in the 800 meters in the Division II finals of the section track championships in May and ran career bests of 1:57.01 in the 800 and 4:02.90 in the 1,500 during the summer. That after being sidelined with a hip injury for more than three months before the season.
His newfound success in cross-country hasn't surprised Varvas, who says Haddan could accomplish some big things by the end of his high school career.
"I think Michael has the potential to run under four minutes in the mile," Varvas said.
Reversed fortunes: Canyon Country Canyon looked superb in winning the Seaside Invitational on Sept. 7 in Ventura.
Long Beach Poly struggled--by its standards--to second place in the Laguna Hills Invitational and to fourth place in the Woodbridge Invitational.
One would never know it by looking at the Southern Section Division I rankings, however, as Poly is No. 1, Canyon No. 2.
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THE TIMES' RANKINGS
1. Canyon Country Canyon (SS-Foothill)
Cowboys will run in Great American meet at South Carolina on Saturday.
2. Huntington Beach Marina (SS-Sunset)
Vikings placed second in Woodbridge Invitational after winning at Laguna Hills.
3. Lake Forest El Toro (SS-South Coast)
Chargers won Woodbridge Invitational over four top-10 ranked teams.
4. Riverside Rubidoux (SS-Sunkist)
Falcons placed third in talent-laden Woodbridge meet.
5. Long Beach Poly (SS-Moore)
Team ranked first in national preseason poll has started slowly.
6. Temecula Valley (SS-Southwestern)
Golden Bears were a second behind fourth-place Poly at Woodbridge.
7. Belmont (City-Northern)
City titan will open season at Bell-Jeff Invitational on Sept. 29.
8. Dana Point Dana Hills (SS-South Coast)
Dolphins will host their own invitational on Saturday.
9. Rosemead Bosco Tech (SS-Camino Real)
Tigers will try to defend small schools title in Great American meet.
10. Simi Valley Royal (SS-Marmonte)
Travis Patterson and Charlie Serrano placed 1-2 in Ojai Invitational last week.