STHS cross country team's secret weapon
---- inspiration
Santa Teresa coach
leads by example  

                     By John Medalen
                         Staff Writer

When Santa Teresa High School's previous cross-country coach retired in 2000, Mike Dudley stepped in to prevent the cross-country and track programs from going away. Over the course of the past three years, Dudley has completely transformed the Santa Teresa High School cross-country team. What's more, he's accomplished it through a demanding and thorough training regime and by providing the athletes with an enthusiastic role model.

Having been a runner himself, Dudley has a special passion for the sport. "I run everything the kids run. I want to make a difference. Our goal is to improve, not to run record times, but to show continual improvement." He asks a lot of his runners, but he always has an encouraging word for their efforts.

Being an off-campus coach has presented it's own challenges, but for Dudley, his reward has been the response he sees from the athletes and the feedback and support he receives from the parents. In fact, several have reported that their kids have more self confidence and self-esteem since being in his program.

One parent noted that her child has become more focused on goals, sports, and academics. She believes that Dudley has had a big impact on her child and the entire team. "he makes everyone feel that they are important, not just the fastest runners. And he emphasizes that [each person is] running for the team".

Dudley also gets support from Willie Harmatz, a running legend at Los Gatos HS. Dudley's program was built on Harmatz's platform. Harmatz took Dudley under his wing because of the latter's passion for the sport.

A Simple Plan Dudley has instilled two simple rules into his athletes; have fun and attack the last half. The first rule is straightforward enough, but the second refers to how they run their races. They run a solid first mile and then attack the remained of the course. The coaches goal's are to " keep our grades up, and be a family". He tells them, "those that don't share these goals can leave."

Over the years, the STHS program has shown steady growth. Two years ago there were only six runners. Last year the numbers jumped to 17 and this year there are 27 confirmed runners with expectations for the total of 40 boys and girls in both varsity and junior varsity.

Dudley just completed a two-month summer "Boot Camp" training program. The athletes ran all of July and August, five days a week, and then ran hills over the weekend for an hour.

"It takes a lot of hard work," said Dudley. "You'll have days where you throw up on the hills, but during competitions you're going to thank me."

The results are already impressive. Preseason times have already qualified them for Central Coast Section (CCS) finals. Some runners have improved their time by one minutes with the summer training.

The team's home course is at Alum Rock Park, and covers 2.95 miles. One hill has a 1,000ft. elevation change, and is called, rather appropriately, "cardiac hill". Dudley notes that the hill is the "back breaker for the kids that haven't done their preseason training." That's one problem that definitely won't apply to his team.

Team has five solid runners The team has five runners- three boys and two girls-who have an outstanding season ahead of them. Dudley reported that his top three boys are are equal in ability, as are the two girls.

Neil Steiner, a senior, has been with Dudley for three years after having run two years in Junior High. When asked what he likes best about the sport, he stated, " I like that you are able to do your best over someone else." His goals this year are to be in the top three in the league and have his team get to CCS finals. Dudley noted that Neil works hard both with the team and on his own to improve his stamina.

John Raquinio is a junior, and according to Dudley, "he runs 'till he can't run any more. He is one of the hardest working kids I've ever seen."

Raquinio likes that his teammates are cool and that it's fun. "It's a good environment. Everyone is really close, and gets along well. We are good friends, like family." With a sly smile, he mentioned that his goal was to be MVP. He also wants to break 16 minutes- he's now at 16:36.

Kevin Boockholdt, a sophomore, earned a spot on the varsity team as a freshman. He has worked harder than ever and has already set a personal record on the STHS home course. "Having more people last year made it easy to encourage those who didn't do as well."

Girls have eyes set on CCS finals and possibly State. Marrield Berry, a senior, has been running since she was a freshman. She likes that the team feels like a family. Coach Dudley calls her his "quiet fighter." Berry's time has improved by a huge five minutes. "I don't know how I did it-it must be the coach. He's awesome." Her only goal is to have fun, not caring how well she does. But she's training hard for a shot at CCS finals.

Clare Sayle is a sophomore. She tried out for the team last year, and ran a 5:36 mile. She ran in middle school, but didn't have much training. Coach Dudley says she's a workhorse. "She is very focused on her goals and has that competitive fire you just can't teach." Clare likes the challenge and personal aspect of the sport. "It's so easy to give up," she said. After running the Alum Rock course, it seems like I've done a lot."

It's a family affair Dudley's wife Nancy is also a runner, and the team mom. She states that she represents the team's more sensitive side. "If someone needs some extra time and attention, I'm there." She is a sounding board at home for Dudley, and offers a female perspective. "I can't help but connect with these kids."

The runners at Santa Teresa High School are fortunate to have such a dedicated coach to lead them, and they return the favor by giving the coach all they have. It should be a very rewarding season for all concerned.