Mercury News

After finishing second in the Central Coast Section Division I cross-country meet the past two seasons, the Monta Vista girls team has earned a reputation as one of the best in the Bay Area.

But the successful girls squad is part of something much bigger.

In his ninth year at Monta Vista's coach, Mike Morris has created a team atmosphere that has made cross-country the most popular sport on campus. This year 89 runners are members of the Matador teams -- boys and girls, junior varsity and varsity.

While the girls garner accolades as the No. 3 team in the Mercury News top 15, the runners behind the scenes continue to impress Morris.

``Only one person can win a race, but these runners are proving that everyone can be successful,'' said Morris, a veteran teacher. ``Some of our junior varsity runners have been with the team for four years, and they have never won a medal or got their names in a record book. But they are such a proud group -- watching them run their races, you would think they were competing for a world championship. That makes coaching worthwhile.''

With such a large team, the runners get a chance to meet people from all walks of life.

``It's a real fun environment,'' said junior Lisa Worsham. ``There are so many people from different ethnic groups -- it makes it a unique sport and fun to come to practice every day.''

Morris has told his runners this will be his last year coaching, and the girls team wants to send him off with the first CCS cross-country title in school history. The CCS meet will be held at Crystal Springs on Nov. 12.

``Coach Morris provides a good balance between having us work out on the track or in the hills,'' said junior Angela Hsu. ``He simulates the race conditions we are going to face and that has been very useful. We've come so close to winning CCS the last few years, and we know he has been wanting it as much as we do.''

Hsu, Worsham and senior Stephanie Cham have been to two state meets with the Matadors, giving the team big-race experience. But it's a newcomer -- freshman Jean Feng -- who might provide the push the Matadors need to win a CCS title .

``Every year you hear rumors about talented freshmen runners coming out,'' Morris said. ``But this time it turned out to be true.''

Feng finished third at the Artichoke Invitational in Half Moon Bay on Oct. 1, running the 2.25-mile course in 14 minutes, 3 seconds, and beating Live Oak's Cobbie Jones, the defending Division I champion.

``She is fearless when she gets to the starting line,'' Morris said. ``She has tremendous heart in addition to her God-given talent.''

The Matador lineup is filled with quality veterans. Cham ran No. 1 for the team last season and is accustomed to racing under pressure. Hsu runs with speed and intelligence and is the only Matador to beat Feng in a race this season, Morris said.

Worsham isn't flashy, but her consistent performances make her one of the team's most valuable members.

``Lisa is a workhorse with a great attitude,'' Morris said. ``She never has a bad race.''

Worsham said Morris is the kind of coach who gets the most out of his athletes.

``He has that kind of personality that just makes you want to work harder,'' Worsham said. ``You are never satisfied and are constantly trying to improve.''

Worsham said the team is focused on the CCS meet where Carlmont should be the main competition.

``We're all focusing on our training so we can peak for that meet.''