Salinas' McVannel runs her way to scholarship

Herald Staff Writer

She did not get the bug or that natural high that so many distance runners preach about when taking up the sport.

A mile in a physical education class in junior high might as well have been a marathon.

"I had no desire to run," Shannon McVannel said.

Besides, basketball was her sport.

Or so she thought.

Coaxed into running cross country as a sophomore to strengthen her for hoops, the Salinas senior found the sport to be ruthless.

"I didn't like it all my sophomore year," McVannel said. "But I trusted my coach. It's kind of grown on me."

Success will do that, as will a full-ride cross country/track and field scholarship to Chico State next fall.

"When the year started, a scholarship wasn't even on my mind," McVannel said. "I thought you had to be really good."

Over the summer, McVannel put her high tops and ball away and pushed the pace with her training, averaging 45-48 miles a week. The results were immediate.

"When she came back this fall, I said, 'Wow,'" Salinas coach Roger Chagnon said. "You could see the difference just in how she was handling the workouts."

McVannel didn't lose a Tri-County Athletic League dual meet race this year. She also won the TCAL title, as well as the Salinas City Meet and Early Bird Invitational.

More importantly McVannel, who will compete Dec. 2 in the Footlocker Western Regionals, shaved over a minute off her time at Toro Park, covering three miles in a school record 18:40.00.

"It wasn't a big deal for her to put in a lot of millage in the off-season," Chagnon said. "She got it and understood. Now you're seeing the results."

To a degree, basketball is still the distance ace's first love. Last winter she was the Cowboys fourth-leading scorer, despite missing 12 games.

"I really miss it," said McVannel, who is not playing basketball this year. "I'm starting to like distance running. It's a way of testing myself."

Basketball was the only sport McVannel competed in until Chagnon talked her into coming out for track -- as a sprinter.

"I saw her playing basketball and said to myself, 'She's quick,'" Chagnon said. "I thought if she ran cross country, it would only strengthen her for the 400."

What he didn't envision is his prized sprinter becoming one of the state's top distance aces.

"If a kid isn't playing a fall sport, I encourage them to run cross country to get them in shape for track or, in her case, basketball," Chagnon said. "Turns out she was in our top seven."

A year later, McVannel was in the state cross country championships as a junior.

Had Salinas not been banned from postseason activity this year by the CCS, she likely would have returned.

"I thought I was over it," McVannel said. "I tried to make the most of our season. But when I watched the CCS finals, it was hard. It was very disappointing."

McVannel, who finished second in the 3,200 and third in the 400 last spring in the TCAL track and field finals, will focus on the 800 (2:22.0) and 3,200 (11:49.0) this spring.

"My favorite race is still the 400," McVannel said. "But my times in the distance races have made it apparent that the 800 and up are my best races."

You won't get an argument from Chico State coach Gary Towne, who offered her a full ride for both sports.

Towne, the Western Regional Coach of the Year, guided the women's cross country team to a ninth place finish last week in the NCAA Division II nationals.

Last year Chico State's cross country team was No. 4 in the nation in Division II and has been ranked in the top 10 five out of the last nine years.

"The coach seems like he's tuned into everything," McVannel said. "I really liked the family-type atmosphere the program offers. And he didn't rush me at all."

McVannel had been offered a full-ride cross country scholarship to San Jose State, but felt pressured into making a decision.

"I was told if I didn't sign in November, it likely wouldn't be there in February," McVannel said. "Plus I wanted to do both sports. San Jose didn't have track."

More importantly, McVannel just had a better feeling about Chico State, from the river that runs through the campus to the feeling of being wanted.

"It has lifted a lot off my shoulders," McVannel said. "I'm so happy to know where I'm going. I don't have impress anyone or worry about who's watching."