To this day, Tori Tyler recalls former Gunn teammate Ruth Graham with a sense of awe.
``I looked up to her because she was the best,'' Tyler said of Graham, who is two years her elder and currently runs at Brigham Young.
Tyler's teammates are probably saying the same thing about her now.
The senior closed her high school cross-country career this fall by matching some of Graham's accomplishments -- two individual Central Coast Section titles and a place in the Footlocker National Championships.
Combined, Tyler and Graham won the past four CCS Division I individual crowns.
Tyler also received an accolade Graham never did -- that of Mercury News girls cross-country runner of the year.
Because of the success she had running, Tyler decided this fall to drop her first love, soccer. Tyler had played soccer since she was 4 years old, and she was originally recruited by colleges to play that sport.
``I still like to play,'' Tyler said. ``But I also love running, too. And that's what I'm going to focus on in college.''
That college will be the University of Washington, which is surely awaiting her arrival after the way Tyler finished her season.
At last weekend's Foot Locker national meet, Tyler finished 27th in a tough field of 39 runners.
|Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News|
|Dylan Fitzpatrick, Carmel, boys cross-country, Athlete of the Year.|
When Carmel's Dylan Fitzpatrick was a freshman, there was no reason to think he would be an all-league runner, as he failed to cover a single three-mile course in less than 21 minutes.
But as a senior, Fitzpatrick did what was once unthinkable for him: He was the Division IV individual state champion and became the Mercury News' boys runner of the year.
``The hard work paid off,'' said Fitzpatrick, who is being recruited by Oregon, Cal Poly, Washington and UC-Davis.
Fitzpatrick said breaking his school's frosh-soph 800-meter record in track as a sophomore encouraged him to give more of himself to running. In his junior cross-country season, Fitzpatrick routinely dipped into the 15-minute range.
``He started to enjoy pain more,'' Coach John Ables said. ``He didn't like pain as a freshman and sophomore.''
Fitzpatrick credited the competitive atmosphere in the powerful Carmel program for helping his development. He said last season's No. 1 runner, Patrick Parsel, had a particularly strong effect on him.
A state finalist in track at 800 meters last spring, Fitzgerald won his race at the prestigious Stanford Invitational and led Carmel to the team title.
He called that the high point of his season, lamenting that Carmel couldn't duplicate the feat at the state meet, where it finished second.