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Etiwanda's Poe Is Picking Up Pace

Cross-country: Junior surprised himself, returning from illness to run state's second-fastest time in 1,600.

April 18, 2002|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Did you hear about Poe?

That was the question of the hour on Saturday evening as spectators arrived for the invitational session of the Arcadia Invitational track and field meet.

The invitational session at Arcadia High annually produces a slew of nation- and state-leading season marks. But junior Michael Poe of Etiwanda High had stunned himself and most of those in attendance at the open session earlier in the day, when he won the second race of the boys' 1,600 meters in 4 minutes 12.92 seconds.

The time lowered Poe's previous best by nearly 10 seconds and was the fastest in the state this year, until junior Phillip Reid of Oxnard Rio Mesa ran 4:12.25 to place fourth in the invitational race Saturday night.

"A lot of people didn't really think I could run that fast, and neither did I," Poe said. "I was hoping to break the school record [of 4:20.80 set by Kent Lawson in 1999], but the race was crazy. Six guys broke 4:19 and eight broke 4:20."

Poe's performance, which he capped with a 59.7-second last lap, was more impressive because he missed two weeks of training in March when he became ill after having his tongue pierced.

"I was mad," Poe said about the illness. "I was hoping my season wouldn't go down from there."

It didn't, thanks to a variety of reasons.

Poe obeyed his doctor's orders and didn't train for two weeks. That allowed him to recover from the illness before he began running again.

He had also built up a large endurance base since last summer, when he frequently ran 100 miles a week. That allowed him to maintain much of his fitness, despite being sidelined.

Finally, Poe is an innately strong runner.

"Mike's strength is his strength," said Charles Hicks, who began coaching Etiwanda's middle- and long-distance runners in January. "Mike doesn't have the great speed on the track, but he has superb strength. He's just so powerful and can run so hard for so long that it's hard for people to go with him."

Poe, who will run in the 3,000 and the distance medley relay during the high school portion of the Mt. San Antonio College Relays on Saturday, first caught people's attention as a sophomore.

He ran a notable 15:28 over Mt. SAC's 2.91-mile cross-country course and finished 28th in the 2000 Southern Section Division I final. He failed to advance to the final of the Division I track championships last May, but his best of 4:24.97 in the 1,600 was notable for a sophomore.

Then came last summer, when he and Erick Maldonado of Chino Don Lugo trained together.

The training went so well that Poe, who felt he wasn't getting enough individual attention at Etiwanda, applied for a transfer to Don Lugo.

The Southern Section turned down his request, but Poe said he came to the realization that Etiwanda cross-country Coach Kevin Uhl was doing the best job he could while working with a group of 50 runners.

Poe had a superb junior cross-country season, winning the Mt. Baldy League title before finishing fourth in the Division I finals of the section and state championships.

He ran a career-best of 4:24.17 in the mile to place third in the L.A. Invitational indoor track meet at the Sports Arena on Feb. 23 and anchored Etiwanda to a then-yearly state-leading time of 10:29.04 in the distance medley relay at the Long Beach Millikan Invitational on March 2. Then came the illness after getting his tongue pierced.

"He didn't get a gold star for clear thinking," Hicks said with a laugh. "Oh to be 16 again ... and idiotic."

Hicks, 72, returned to coaching two years ago after earning a reputation for producing high-quality mile-relay teams while at Chaffey College from 1965-83. He is old school but says Poe and Etiwanda runners such as Kyle Sunderland have been receptive to his training ideas.

"Mike is very coachable," Hicks said. "He's very accepting. He gives you 100% whether he believes in what you're doing or not."

Confidence is Poe's greatest asset, according to state Division I cross-country champion Maldonado.

"He's a good athlete," Maldonado said. "He trains hard. He works hard, but most of all, he believes in himself. When you have talent, train hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish a lot."

Poe, whose slight drawl reveals his parents' Kansas roots, has no intention of resting on his Arcadia laurels that also include a split of 4:17 for his 1,600 leg in the distance medley relay.

He's looking forward again to teaming with Sunderland, the third-fastest 800 runner in the state, Dane Simmons and Tony Chavez in the distance medley relay at Mt. SAC and to running against highly regarded Billy Nelson of Taft in the 3,000.

"All I have to do is progress from here," Poe said. "I can't just do it once and not again."

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Track and Field

What: Mt. San Antonio College Relays

Where: Mt. San Antonio College

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