It may seem as if Amanda Thornberry burst onto the scene this season, but the Valley Christian senior has spent two years developing into one of the nation's top middle-distance runners.
After enjoying some success as a junior -- she placed fifth in the 1,600 meters at the Central Coast Section finals -- Thornberry is poised to contend for section and state titles. She owns the state's No. 1 time in the 1,600 (4:49.93) and the third-best times in the 800 and 3,200, and she will soon accept a Division I scholarship.
But first she must decide which two events to focus on at the CCS championships, which begin May 24. She is taking advantage of the meets leading to the section finals by running doubles -- two of her three distances. She plans to run the 1,600 and 3,200 at Saturday's CCS Top 8 meet at Los Gatos after successfully running the 800 and 3,200 last weekend at the Hampton-Phillips Track Classic at San Jose City College.
``It was one of my first doubles, and I'm surprised how fresh I felt,'' Thornberry said. ``It's a good indication that I'm definitely strong enough to go in and double. Now it's a matter of taking it from that point and moving down my times.''
Excelling at several distances should help Thornberry in the future.
``We wanted to establish Amanda as a middle-distance runner who can do a number of events,'' said Scott Evans, Thornberry's club coach and also Valley Christian's coach last season. ``Going into college, you have to be able to do the full gamut.
``And we had to explore what we think can be her best events, then we can make a choice.''
Thornberry, who is leaning toward a scholarship offer from Cal, got a good indication she's ready to double at the CCS finals with her performance at the Hampton-Phillips. After winning the 3,200 in a personal-best 10:43.19, Thornberry placed second in the 800 in 2:13.29, with about six hours between races.
Thornberry will face a more grueling test Saturday because she'll have much less time between the 1,600 and 3,200 to refuel.
She competed in both events at the CCS finals as a sophomore and placed 11th and 10th, respectively.
She improved her junior season, placing fifth in the 1,600 in 5:04.22, but it wasn't until competing at the USA track and field junior nationals in Florida last summer that Thornberry began to realize her potential. She placed first in the 1,500 in the intermediate age division.
``That's when she realized she can go places,'' Evans said.
Thornberry can also look at the recent history of the CCS, which has developed some of the state's top middle-distance runners. Last year Shannon Rowbury of Sacred Heart Cathedral (now at Duke) and Ashley Caldwell of Los Gatos (now at UCLA) placed first and second in the 800 and 1,600, respectively. In 2000, Alejandra Barrientos of San Lorenzo Valley (now at UCLA) won section titles in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Rowbury and Barrientos won CCS titles as underclassmen and spent the majority of their high school careers in the limelight. For Thornberry, success has been a steady climb.
CCS HONOREES: Oak Grove's Ed Buller and Leland's Chris Hansen were among 14 coaches statewide who received the California Interscholastic Federation's Model Coach awards. Winners are recognized for demonstrating and teaching values such as respect, fairness and good citizenship.
Buller has coached football at Oak Grove for 16 years and has served as the athletic director since 1994. Hansen is the girls volleyball coach at Leland and has also coached softball and basketball.
Madeleine Flint of Notre Dame-Belmont and Trevor Fontes of Fremont recently were named CCS scholar-athletes of the year.
Other scholarship winners are Jessica Schindler of Santa Cruz, Katie Turley-Molony of Presentation, Alison Fohner of Archbishop Mitty, Kimberly Dabo of San Benito, Lora Krsulich of Capuchino, Scott Martin of Gilroy, Matthew Ronconi of Mountain View and David Welch of St. Francis.
SOFTBALL SIGNINGS: Alex Sutton of Archbishop Mitty and Sarah Adams of Half Moon Bay recently signed letters-of-intent with Cal, the defending national champion.
Sutton, a utility player for the Monarchs, hit .525 as a junior and was named the Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division's most valuable player. Adams missed her junior season because of an injury but went 7-0 as a sophomore, including a perfect game in the CCS Division III championship game. She has not allowed an earned run in 34 innings this season.
TIDBITS: The 16-team West Coast Classic baseball tournament, hosted by Archbishop Mitty, begins today and concludes Thursday. Some of the state's top teams are participating, including St. Francis of Mountain View, Mater Dei and Bishop O'Dowd.
The quarterfinals of the Valley Christian Crown Classic tournament conclude today with Bellarmine, Wilcox, Valley Christian and Leigh looking to win the title. The championship game is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Valley Christian.
Jesse Samples' high school track career has been marred by injuries. His junior year was lost to a broken ankle suffered while skateboarding. His senior season nearly ended before it started.
In September, he was hit hard while running the ball for the Aptos football team. A concussion led to a brain hemorrhage, which left him hospitalized for five days. Samples missed six weeks of school.
Saturday, Samples won the long jump and finished second in the high jump at the 13th Hampton-Phillips Track Classic at San Jose City College, a performance that earned him the meet's most valuable field athlete award.
``It was tough,'' Samples said. ``I had bad headaches for a while, which affected my training, but I'm finally starting to feel better.
``It feels great to be able to compete at a high level. I feel like I'm back to where I was before I got hurt.''
Samples is in his first year of long jumping after switching from the 200 meters. The results have been dramatic -- Samples has the second-best jump in the Central Coast Section this year, his mark of 23-feet- 1/2 behind only the 23-4 3/4 of Archbishop Riordan's Eric Wright.
Saturday, his leap of 22-6 earned a gold medal.
Samples high-jumped 6-2 to take second behind Bellarmine College Prep's David Claveran's mark of 6-5, which ranks second in the CCS this year.
Jarred Belser also had a big day for the Bells, highlighted by a duel with Pinole's Wopamo Osaisai in the 100 meters. Belser was initially declared the winner, but after reviewing the finish, officials ruled Osaisai had edged the standout senior with a time of 10.69 to Belser's 10.70. Belser's time was the fastest 100 meters in the CCS this year and fifth-fastest in California.
``Running against Osaisai helped pushed me to go all out,'' said Belser. ``I feel like I separated myself a little bit from the CCS competition today, and I hope I can peak at the right time for CCS and state.''
The 800 meters looked like a Bellarmine training run as Matt Bordoni nipped teammate Alex Guney at the tape to win with a time of 1:55.98. Guney (1:56.03) was followed by fellow Bell Nick Johnson, who finished at 1:57.01.
``It was a great race having all my teammates running in the front,'' Bordoni said. ``I was a little disappointed that Aptos' Jacob Evans didn't run this race. It would have been great to see how it would have ended up with him in there.''
Evans, the defending CCS champ in the 800, ran the 1,600 instead Saturday and won with a time of 4:22.98, beating out Guney's 4:25.97.
So far, Will Faules' senior year at Homestead High has nearly lived up to his high expectations.
The senior two-sport star helped lead the Mustangs to the Central Coast Section Division II title game, where he rushed for 249 yards and scored on runs of 50, 63 and 74 yards in a 48-34 loss to Menlo-Atherton in December.
Faules' breakaway speed left would-be tacklers in the dust all season as he scored 26 touchdowns and earned a spot on the All-Mercury News team.
Now Faules is leaving opponents in his wake again, this time for the Mustangs track team. As a junior, he won a Central Coast Section title in the 300 hurdles and finished second in the 110 hurdles. He finished seventh in the state in the 110 hurdles.
Faules has the best time in the CCS this year in the 110 (14.64 seconds) and has the fifth-best time in the 300 (41.04). He is also the lead man on the standout Homestead 4x100 relay team, which ran a 43.96 at the Stanford Invitational, the fourth-best CCS time this year.
Running pressure-packed races in front of big crowds at the CCS and state meets gave Faules experience he hopes to draw on this year.
``Walking onto the track and seeing a packed stadium really gets your heart going,'' Faules said. ``This year our coach has scheduled us to run in some of the top meets. So that should help soothe the nerves for everyone when we compete in CCS and state.''
Last season, the relay team finished fourth in the CCS, one place from earning a berth in the state finals. Faules and his teammates, Eddie Sumpter, Richard Scott and Pat Rugo, have been working hard on practicing their exchanges.
``I think we can go a lot faster than we have,'' said Scott, who runs the third leg of the relay.
``We've got great chemistry. With Will starting out of the blocks, we usually have a big lead, and Eddie increases it. It's my job to maintain it and run the turn to get the baton to Pat. He's got the speed to finish.''
Faules and the relay team make up one of the few bright spots on this season's Homestead team. On the girls side, Brittney Reynolds is having another standout season after qualifying for state as a junior in the long jump.
Her jump of 17-3 1/2, which won the Carmel Classic last weekend, is the fourth-best mark in the CCS this year.
The boys relay team is determined to perform its best and peak at the right time, and Homestead Coach Eddie Sumpter Sr. is hopeful the team can reach its goal.
``We haven't really put in a lot of speed work yet -- we've been concentrating on the exchanges and developing a good rapport,'' the coach said. ``But these four definitely have a good shot to finish among the leaders at CCS.''
Faules, who plans to play football at Foothill College next fall, enjoyed his success on the football field this year, but he wants to make sure the track season doesn't end on a disappointing note.
``The top six at state get medals, and that really motivated me, taking seventh last year,'' Faules said. ``The last thing I am afraid of is competition. Lining up to race at state gets the adrenaline going and pushes you to do your best, and I'm looking forward to doing it again this year.''
As a freshman, Mt. Pleasant's Galena Becker advanced to the state track and field championships in three events but couldn't get past the qualifying round.
Now a sophomore, Becker is again among the Central Coast Section leaders in the long jump, triple jump and 100-meter hurdles. She hopes to reach the state final in at least one event, and she moved toward that goal by recording personal bests in two events at Saturday's 13th annual Hampton-Phillips Track Classic at San Jose City College. Becker was one of several CCS athletes who delivered solid performances.
``She's a talented athlete, but I wanted her to work on being aggressive in the hurdles and the jumps,'' Mt. Pleasant Coach Steve Nelson said. ``I'm happy where we are today, but I think she has a lot more inside her.''
Becker set personal bests in the 100 hurdles (14.86 seconds) and triple jump (39 feet, 7 1/2 inches, the section's sixth-best all-time mark), both of which are section-best marks this season. She placed first in the 100 hurdles and second in both jumps, clearing 18- 1/2 in the long jump on her final attempt. Merrill West's Brittany Daniels broke the meet record of 39-1 in the triple jump.
``Last year I just made it to state, so this year I want to make it there and do good,'' said Becker, who hopes to compete in all three events at the CCS championships next month. ``I feel like I'm doing well in the hurdles right now and starting to improve in the jumps.''
Valley Christian's Amanda Thornberry, the section leader in the 800 and 1,600, focused on the 800 and 3,200, one of the few times this season she has competed in two distance events at the same invitational. The senior cruised to a victory in the 3,200 -- just her second time competing in the event this season -- and won in a personal best of 10:43.19 (second-best in the CCS). Thornberry opened a 100-meter lead after the third lap and finished the final five laps ahead of the pack. She placed second in the 800 with a 2:13.29, about one second off her section-leading mark, just ahead of Silver Creek's Cherie McPherson, whose 2:13.64 is the section's second-best time.
With Thornberry skipping the 1,600, Saratoga sophomore Alicia Follmar placed first with a personal best of 4:58.74, breaking the five-minute mark for the first time. It was the section's second-fastest time this season, behind Thornberry's 4:49.93. Follmar also doubled and competed in the 800, placing fourth in 2:16.96.
In the 200, Valley Christian's Ashley Monfort (24.68) and Oak Grove's Veronica Walker (24.91) set section-leading marks by placing second and third, respectively. Walker also placed third in the 100 with a time of 12.29 seconds.