No holding them back

No holding them back

CINIGLIO

GOALS:

Confident group of Pirates look to bring another title home to San Pedro.

y By Tony Ciniglio

About midway through last season, San Pedro cross country coach Bruce Thomson sensed his boys were holding back.

Despite an abundance of talent, Thomson said the Pirates were banking on next season instead of cashing in a special opportunity.

After an animated talk in his classroom, his team flourished. The Pirates captured the program’s first L.A. City Section title since 1981 and laid the foundation for what promises to be a breakout season with nine of 11 runners returning.

“I think a few of them, deep down, didn’t believe they could do it,” Thomson said. “It hadn’t happened for the boys. Our girls have done it before and had the confidence, but not our boys. Belmont had won 17 of 20 titles, and Monroe had (Manuel) Ruiz, so it was a big hill to climb. The sense of urgency just wasn’t there.

“I just told them to have more confidence. I wanted them to think, ‘Hey, let’s not settle for just one title. Let’s try for two in a row.’ They finally realized that they had it within themselves.”

Like defending Bay League champion West Torrance, San Pedro does not have a legitimate No. 1 runner who can dominate a meet. But like West, the Pirates’ depth is impressive.

Thomson believes his boys can challenge not just for another City title, but for a top-10 finish at the state meet as well. The only losses for the Pirates were Alex Diaz (El Camino College) and Ricardo Diaz, who moved to Oklahoma after placing 11th at City Finals.

Senior Toji Sakamoto was the Pirates’ leader last year, securing sixth place at City finals (15:55). Junior Johan Nava (14th, 16:11), senior Adrian Alanis (15th, 16:16) and senior Juan Pinedo (20th, 16:29) give the Pirates a savvy, veteran group.

Ricardo Ugalde, the Pirates’ No. 6 runner last year before becoming ineligible, returns and should provide a spark. Sophomore David Soto placed second in frosh/soph City Finals (16:47), and junior Alex Rosales also overcame ineligibility to return.

The Pirates’ balance was evident as Sakamoto, who finished No. 8 on the team during one meet, finished as the No. 1 runner at City, and Ricardo Diaz was eighth on the team during a midseason meet, but eventually became No. 2 at City.

“The great thing about us was that we didn’t have a pecking order,” Thomson said. “Everyone bought into packing up and staying together as a group, and if someone was feeling good that day, they could take the lead.”

Also in the City Section . . .

Narbonne took 10th at City finals last year, but must find a way to overcome the loss of standout runner Jose Gonzalez, who earned a scholarship to Notre Dame deNamur near San Francisco, according to Coach Kevin Matherly. Sophomore Ramon Hernandez appears to be the next up-and-comer at Narbonne, and he should be supported by junior Francisco Delgado, senior Felix Arroyo and sophomores Jesse Craig and Julio Ramirez.

Bay League

Defending champion West Torrance appears to be the front-runner in a loaded league that returns 18 of the top 19 runners. Coach Jason Drutten may not have a bona fide superstar, but the Warriors run in a tight pack and return six key performers who are tough to beat. Junior Amir Ursani, senior Shayne Carroll, junior Ryan Ung, junior Jon Yi, junior Matt Truong and senior Jon Gehrt all return to give West the early favorite status. West advanced to its first CIF finals appearance in at least 11 years, and it may go even further this year.

South Torrance’s Damon Ferrara, last year’s individual league champion, put in a strong summer of training and appears ready to defend his title. He gives the Spartans a shot at the league title, and with senior Shawn McCoy (ninth in league last year), senior John Guzman (4:36 mile), senior David Rosen, junior Derek Hastings and sophomore Andy Ferrara, Coach Brian Tokuda returns his top six runners.

Mira Costa, under Coach Bob Fish, could be the most improved team in the league. The Mustangs boast impressive senior Jason Hanakeawe, who finished second to Ferrera last year while claiming league titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 in track and field. Junior Danny Villanueva, who placed eighth in league, won the Bay League 800-meter title. Senior Tyler Stover and junior Andrew Kline look solid, sophomore Bryce Scanlan, the frosh/soph league champ in the 1,600, should be a factor, and sophomores Parker Giles and Cameron Padgett could help provide a strong foundation.

Peninsula returns junior Nathan Skoller and senior Adrian Doty for a powerful one-two punch, but took a hit when Eric Jesse quit to focus on triathlon training. Junior Daniel Diamond gave up soccer to concentrate on running, and senior Richard Moyer returns after spending two years in St. Louis. Coach Norm Towers said he hopes a new training regiment will prevent another late-season collapse.

Torrance hopes to sneak into a top-three finish for a trip to the CIF Prelims and will look to senior Shane Quinn to anchor the group as a sub-17 minute runner. Coach Israel Pose also has high hopes for junior Ryan Raya, sophomore Paul Brazil and freshman Mario Gonzalez, but losing Chris Meyers to an injury leaves the Tartars thin. Pioneer League

Defending champion Hawthorne, looking to replace four-year runner Jose Vaca, will turn to senior Isaac Gomez, the No. 2 runner in the league last year. Freshman Jamie Vaca, the younger brother of Jose, has impressed Coach Philip Miyasato so far. But the wild card could be Robert Gonzalez, whose status this season is uncertain. Local coaches said Gonzalez has the potential to be the top runner in the area, but personal problems could prevent him from competing. Prep League

Chadwick coach George Ramos returns three all-league runners who helped the Dolphins place third at CIF and fifth at state, their best showings in school history. Junior Peter Bartlett (a second-team All- CIF pick), senior Sean Watson and senior Sam Cohen were all-league runners who powered the Dolphins to a No. 4 CIF State preseason ranking in Division V. Junior college

El Camino coach Dean Lofgren acknowledged the Warriors took a hit after losing their corps of sophomores Kevin Ray (UC San Diego), Juan Ceja (Chico State), Doug Westphal and Corey Hirokawa. Lofgren believes this year’s team is talented but unproven. Returner Sal Bautista looks strong, while freshmen Alex Diaz (San Pedro) and Javier Figueroa (Banning) could make the transition easier. Returner Kendall Lopez looks to recover from a femur fracture, while freshmen Emi Nash (Hawthorne), Adam Cohu (Peninsula, University of Arizona bounceback) and Keith Phiboolsook (West Torrance) should contribute.

AREA TEAMS TO WATCH

San Pedro

West Torrance

Narbonne South Torrance Mira Costa Peninsula Torrance Hawthorne Chadwick

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2003

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