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2006 Foot Locker West region - Boys

Dec. 2, 2006 Mt. SAC, Walnut CA

Results -

Tebo's getting his groove back

NM standout leads other favorites, and some surprises

By Steve Underwood and Kirsten Leetch

When a guy runs in the high 8:40s or low 8:50s in the 2-mile as a junior, big things are expected during his senior cross-country season. But it’s tough to deliver, once you’re already down in that territory, even though guys generally see more of a linear improvement through their senior year than girls.

Matt Tebo NM, Evan Jager IL, and Mike Cybulski CA were all part of a group that ran between 8:47-8:52 last spring for the full deuce. By Thanksgiving weekend, it was already determined that one of those three, Jager, would miss out on the big dance in San Diego. As for the others, leading up to this weekend, Cybulski had lost twice to Chad Hall CA, and Tebo had been defeated by both of them at Mt. SAC.

Saturday, however, gave both of the West Region runners reason to keep hoping for a Foot Locker national title and extended their season one more week. Tebo kicked away from a loose pack of six runners that entered the stadium at Mt. SAC to win the Foot Locker West Regional in 15:46. Meanwhile, Cybulski joined surprising Ben Johnson NM in finishing as the top two Foot Locker eligibles from West states at NTN.

And speaking of surprises, the remaining seven runners that filled out the West team to go to Foot Locker Finals, on a very warm, sunny day at Mt. SAC, included some more stunners as well as favorites. Hall (15:47) took the runner-up spot, Mikel Thomas CA (15:48) was fourth, and Max O’Donahue-McDonald WA (15:51) was sixth. Those three, along with Tebo, were heavy favorites to make it to San Diego based on excellent seasons.

Taylor Farnsworth ID, 5th in 15:49, was dominant in most of his meets, but had to rebound from disappointment at the Rocky Mountain Championships. Kent Morikawa CA was a top returner with a solid resume, but needed a stellar effort and some help to beat similar talents out there. He got both and ran 7th in 15:56.

But who had Jake Riley WA finishing 3rd (15:48) on their form charts, or Jared Ward UT taking 8th (16:01)? Well, maybe those two themselves did. Both runners came to Walnut with an eye on qualifying, despite long odds, and produced the performances to do it.

Leading men perform their roles

All eyes were no doubt on Tebo and Hall as they zipped around the loops in the valley on the first part of the course. Both, of course, had impressive resumes, but each had questions to answer as well. Would Tebo, who was known to have missed some training with injury in the fall, return to championship-level form after the distant and disappointing 3rd at Mt. SAC? Would Hall, who had endured some big meet disappointments here and there before this fall, come through in the most important harrier race of his life to date?

From the start, it looked like the answer would be, “No problem.” Hall looked very comfortable at the front, and Tebo almost as much so. Showing more intensity and looking just as strong was O’Donahue-McDonald, who had an outstanding fall after overcoming inconsistencies of his own (health-related).

The first mile was not terribly fast, 4:47, and a huge pack was with or behind the leaders, including key hopefuls like Thomas, Luke Puskedra UT, Eric Avila CA, and Matt Petrillo CA, and underdogs like Mohamed Abdulla CA. No one who was anyone was getting dropped at that pace.

After battling up the switchbacks, the runners were naturally spread out more as they came over at the crossover (1.6-1.7M) as O’Donahue-McDonald, Hall, and Tebo continued to lead.

By two miles, as the runners got up and down Poopout Hill and headed to Reservoir Hill, the top three were still in place, with Thomas having closed in and Farnsworth joining to make a pack of five. Riley was pressing hard to get in there, while Avila and Abdulla were hanging for life, and Greg Billington was trying to close the gap. The latter three were in the top eight at that point, but that would change.

Thomas surged ahead a bit as they headed down Reservoir, but the pack closed back in on him as they turned and headed down the stretch toward the stadium. Meanwhile, Morikawa and Ward were starting to establish their positions in 7th and 8th, making sure there was no last-second drama on the track.

When they got to the oval, Tebo got his turnover going for his typically strong kick and the race for first was over. Hall rolled comfortably home behind him, while Ward took advantage of some of the relaxed qualifiers by bulling his way into third. The top six would finish within five seconds, followed by Morikawa and Ward at five-second intervals following.

Avila, the #2 returnee from last year, was five ticks behind Ward in that difficult 9th spot (16:06). Jonathan Peterson CA came in two seconds later, and Billington – the senior whose family is stationed overseas in England and was 16th here last year – improved to 11th, but could not get a San Diego bid.

Shortly thereafter, as the runners waited for the awards ceremony, Tebo showed a halting confidence commensurate with his progress over the last six weeks, but knowing he still needs a spike up to win next Saturday.

“I really haven’t had a race like this all season, except for Mt. SAC,” he said. “It was good to get a real race under my belt. I’ve still definitely been training hard. I haven’t rested or totally backed off from my training.”

The Eldorado NM senior’s progress early this fall was slowed by injury. “Early in the season I missed 2-3 weeks with shin splints. We didn’t want it to turn into a stress fracture.” The combination of that and the emergence of in-state rivals like Albuquerque Academy’s Ben Johnson and Dustin Martin, with whom he raced on multiple occasions, made Tebo’s results look less than national-championship caliber. With the revelation of the injury and the knowledge that the AA duo is also national class – Johnson and Martin were 2nd and 12th at NTN – the value of those races becomes more clear.

Mt. SAC was Tebo’s best chance to run the best, though. “I thought I was ready – maybe not to win, but at least run with them,” he said, “but I just couldn’t do it yet.” He ran 14:54 on the 2.91 layout that day, 9 seconds behind Cybulski and 19 behind Hall.

He’s ready now.

And so is Hall, who continued his season-long breakout into the nation’s ultra-elite. At the end, he made some effort to go for the win, but it was pretty clear he had something left. “I ran just to qualify and if I was close to the front, I’d go for the win,” he said. He did give a pretty hard push in mid-race, though. “Going up Poopout, I knew that there was still a lot of people there, so I wanted to get it going a bit to soften the pack up and create some separation from the pack. So I ended up pushing more than I wanted at that section.”

Obviously, it’s been a very successful year for the Big Bear CA sr who can certainly say he’s ran from under the shadow of his brother, Ryan, who chased 4-minute miles and titles six years ago, and has now become a USATF champion. “(The season has) pretty much gone as planned, but I was really going after the Mt SAC record this year at the Invitational, and that didn’t happen. That was my only regret.”

Chad also said it’s pretty cool having an older brother at that level. “He’s a big inspiration. He sets a good example for me.” Chad did say, however, that he hopes to stay more at the mile than the longer races Ryan has been working on. And, it turns out, Ryan is more than just an inspiration. He’s … a therapist. “I have a slight IT band problem, but I’ve been working on it. Ryan gave me a really painful massage and it helped.”

Like Tebo, Hall said he would definitely be going for the win this week.


Riley leads remaining six

Along with Jessica Tonn AZ, who was also 3rd in the girls race, there was no bigger breakthrough into the top group than Jake Riley WA. Though he didn’t have the times of fellow Evergreen Stater O’Donahue-McDonald, and didn’t come into the fall regionally known as Matt Frerker or Michael Chinchar, the Sehome sr overcame an early-season injury and moved up the ranks. He won Sunfair, and then was the WA 2Achamp, but his 15:51 in the latter was still 19 seconds behind O’D-M and 5th overall.

The next week at the WA-OR BorderClash, however, he began to really show what he was made of, taking 4th, but just one second behind 2nd and eight behind 1st, despite tripping in the first 300 meters. “That was a confidence builder,” he said.

Riley had tendonitis early in the year, then the Sunfair race was when the Foot Locker aspirations began to really take hold. “This course (Mt. SAC) was like Sunfair with a lot of big hills,” he said. “I tried to stay on the outside of the pack, make sure I was in good position on the corners, and push the downhills.

“I talked with my coaches and we felt like I could at least get top 10, maybe top 8.”

Few runners with better credentials than Mikel Thomas failed to make it last fall to San Diego. After a great season in D2 (2nd in state), he was just 30th at FL West. “I was just raced out at that point last year, just really tired,” he recalled.

He had a good spring, which included an 4th in the CIF 3200 and 8:59 at Arcadia, then set about making sure his senior year in cross was different. While he had some strong in-state invite races and took the state D2 title, the highlight was when Clovis took a trip east to the Manhattan Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park. Getting a chance in the best race of the day, Mikel took full advantage with a very solid 3rd behind Craig Forys course record (to be nipped a race later) and Steve Murdock.

Saturday, Thomas ran smartly and comfortably. He tasted the lead coming down Reservoir and maintained coming in for fourth. “I pushed hard at the start to get good position … then I wanted to go hard in the last 800. But in the end, I really didn’t care who won,” he said.

And, for better or worse, Mikel carries on the AJ Acosta tradition of “fast guys who are bad boys on the DyeStat message boards.”

“Bad” might describe Taylor Farnsworth’s race at the Rocky Mountain Championships four weeks earlier. That could be harsh, but it definitely wasn’t at the level that Taylor had run in ruling the Idaho 5A state meet (15:30, by 23 seconds) or the Firman Invitational (by 10 seconds in 15:16). In those efforts, he’d established himself as a Foot Locker contender, even if Idaho isn’t represented like the coastal states.

Saturday, however, Farnsworth returned with a performance that confirmed what he’d done nearly all season. He ran patiently early, then moved up with the leaders in the second set of hills. His strategy was flawless and he was clearly mentally ready to challenge runners he’d never raced. He was an easy qualifier in 5th.

A year ago, Max O’Donahue-McDonald, blessed with one of the longest and best names in Foot Locker history came Mt. SAC in December without a clue. “Last year I had no idea what to do,” he said. “I ran just to run.”

Saturday, he definitely had a clue and a bold intention borne out of his stated mission. “This was my goal the whole year.” O’D-M got in front at the start and, really, he controlled more than half the race. It got harder toward the end. “I kind of eased back … then I started feeling it a bit. The last hill got me. We don’t really have too many courses like this where I run.”

Max’s year included only one loss – a fine effort nonetheless where he was nipped by Brenden Gregg at Stanford, but beat Mike Cybulski – and he won Jim Danner, WA 3A state with the best time of the day, and finally BorderClash two weeks ago. Which was his biggest win? “I’d have to say state, but BorderClash was a close 2nd.”

O’D-M was known as an inconsistent runner much of last year, but not many knew he was struggling with anemia and back problems. A healthy fall made him a near shoo-in to qualify as he did Saturday.

Kent Morikawa, the Torrence CA sr who was the 5th returnee from 2005, proved that facing the tough competition he does all year in the Golden State, and peaking at the right time, can pay big dividends.

“This was my number one goal this year (to make the team) for cross country since I finished 19th last year,” he said. Motivated by not only that, but seeing two of his future UCLA teammates out there cheering him on and wanting to help the West team win, he executed his plan.

“The first mile there was a lot of bumping, and I was a little nervous about how many people were up there, but I knew that some separation would occur at the top of the switchbacks and the second half of the race,” he said. “At the top of Reservoir I pulled into 8th place, but I could hear people around me yelling for people behind me, so I was really working forward. When I hit the track, I took a look behind and I knew I was a solid 8th, but decided to kick into 7th.”

That kick allowed him to overtake Jared Ward, but the Davis UT sr wasn’t too disappointed. He was definitely a dark horse coming in, though he’s had enough strong races that maybe he wasn’t such an underdog after all. “My training all year long was based on getting in the top eight,” he said. After taking 2nd at 5A state (3rd overall), he went into a short distance phase for two weeks, then was a very strong 3rd at the Rocky Mountain race. “That helped build my confidence a little bit.”

Ward, who was also 3rd at Firman, then had a few more weeks of sharpening got him primed for FL West. A bit ironically, his success in getting the last spot had a bit to do with beating someone who he had lost to several times throughout the year. Rocky Mountain and Utah state champ Luke Puskedra was a strong favorite for the top 8 coming in. “Every race I run against him, I think he’s going to come back to me, but he never does.”

Saturday, he did, however; when Ward passed him, he could tell his rival was in obvious distress (unfortunately, he dropped out). “He had beaten me 5-6 times; that was the first time I had beaten him.”

It was a day for a lot of “firsts,” indeed.


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