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High Schools | CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW

Sultana Wary of Too Much Too Soon

September 13, 2003|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

John Mahr is facing a problem entering his ninth season as the cross-country coach at Hesperia Sultana.

He thinks his girls' team is talented enough to win the mythical national title this year, but he doesn't want it to become obsessed with reaching that goal.

"[The girls] know the writing is on the wall," Mahr said. "They know that most of them ran big [personal-record times] during track season and that they're in better shape now than they were a year ago.... But we can't get too caught up in the rankings stuff. We just have to concentrate on running better than we did last year."

Sultana stamped itself as one of California's finest teams ever by posting runaway victories in the Division II races of the Southern Section and state championships last year and by setting course team time records on the vaunted layouts at Mt. San Antonio College and Woodward Park in Fresno.

With its top seven runners returning, the Sultans are expected to challenge three-time defending national champion Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Los Alamos, N.M., for the No. 1 ranking in Harrier magazine. Yet, senior Kelsey Delagardelle and sophomore Danielle Varela don't talk about winning the national title when asked about their goals.

"We just want to keep on improving and stay healthy," said Delagardelle, the runner-up in the Southern Section and state championships. "We're aware of the rankings, but we try not to pay too much attention to them. We don't want to create any extra pressure for ourselves."

Varela, the Southern Section Division II champion and the fourth-place finisher in the state championships, voiced a similar sentiment. "We just want to let our feet do our talking and leave [the rankings] up to that," she said.

Seniors Stacy Tabuena and Kelsey Camara and junior Shadee' Duarte are the other top returners for Sultana. Tabuena placed seventh in the state meet, Duarte was 24th and Camara 27th.

"We are very healthy and very fit," Mahr said. "The kids did everything they were supposed to do during the summer, so our concern right now is holding them back and making sure they don't run too fast too early."

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The top two runners for the Chino Don Lugo boys' team graduated in June, but the Conquistadores are still the preseason pick to win the state Division I title after finishing second to Los Angeles Loyola last year.

Junior Fitsum Tesfa is expected to be Don Lugo's top runner after a good summer of training and a victory over senior Michael Haddan of Irvine Woodbridge in the Sunset in the Park race in Huntington Beach two weeks ago. Seniors Ruben Ramirez, Nathan Wolack and Mark Moreno, and sophomores Alfred Gonzalez and twins Alex and Cesar Mercado should give Don Lugo plenty of depth.

"If we stay healthy, we'll be a pretty doggone good team," Coach Don Salyers said. "We want to win state, and we think we can do that if we stay healthy."

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Mohamed Trafeh of Duarte, Haddan and Mark Matusak of Loyola are the top returning runners in the Southland on the boys' side.

Trafeh, a senior, placed seventh in the national championships after winning the state Division IV title. In addition, he ran 8 minutes 55.87 seconds in the 3,200 meters during track season. Haddan was the runner-up in the Division II races of the state and Southern Section cross-country championships and finished third in the 800 in the state track championships.

Matusak placed third in the state Division I cross-country final and ran 4:11.24 in the 1,600 during track.

Senior Liza Pasciuto of Murrieta Valley, the runner-up in the state Division I cross-country final last year, and Sultana teammates Delagardelle and Varela are the Southland's top returning girls' runners.

Natalie Picchetti of Rancho Cucamonga was a finalist in the national championships for San Antonio (Texas) Reagan last year, but the senior transfer sustained a stress fracture in her leg during the summer.

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