By Dennis Knight
Mercury News

The boys were born on separate continents, nearly 10,000 miles apart.

Mohamed Abdalla, born in Somalia, moved to the United States when he was 8. Marcos Corona, a native of Michoacán, Mexico, arrived here at 4.

But the two discovered common ground on the Willow Glen cross-country team.

Rams Coach Victor Santamaria reached out to the boys when they arrived at the high school -- Corona in 2003 and Abdalla in 2004 -- and persuaded them to join his team. Santamaria's devotion combined with the boys' hard work to produce two of the top runners in the Central Coast Section.

Their styles are contrary -- Corona is known for his finishing kick, and Abdalla runs with remarkable endurance.

``Marcos' strength is his tremendous raw speed -- he loves to finish races,'' Santamaria said. ``And Mohamed has a genetic gift for running -- he can sustain a strong pace. Both are fierce competitors.''

Joining a high school team helped both boys, who began running in junior high. Corona has built stamina, and Abdalla has become faster, last season cutting his 800-meter time to below two minutes.

Their personal relationship has grown, too. Corona recalled the first time he saw Abdalla, who was a skinny boy about to enter his freshman year.

``He was very quiet and shy, until he started to trust us,'' said Corona, who joked, ``Now we can't get him to stop talking.''

Santamaria has built team spirit by taking his runners on summer retreats to Bass Lake near Yosemite National Park. He also organizes a popular alumni race, which draws former Willow Glen runners from the past four decades.

``Coach Santamaria stresses that the team needs to be like a family, and the alumni race shows that we are all going to be friends for life,'' Abdalla said.

At Willow Glen, the boys have compiled impressive résumés.

As a sophomore, Corona finished second in the 1,600 at the CCS track and field championships with a time of 4 minutes, 19.92 seconds. Last year, he took second place behind St. Francis' Ben Sitler in the CCS Division III cross-country finals. Abdalla then edged Corona at the state meet by two seconds (15:53) to finish eighth. Corona was 10th.

In the spring, Corona's track season was cut short -- he suffered a nasty spike injury when a runner stepped on his Achilles tendon in the 1,600 at the Stanford Invitational. But Abdalla finished third in the CCS at 3,200 meters (9:22.36) and 23rd at state.

Corona and Abdalla hope Willow Glen -- with a solid supporting cast that includes Abdul Kamara and brothers Eyoel and Sampson Galato -- can bring home a championship for Santamaria.

``He encourages us to run and to do well in school,'' Abdalla said. ``He's a very dedicated coach and teacher.''

• Willow Glen will be among more than 50 teams competing Saturday at the 12th annual Condor Earlybird Invitational at Toro Park in Salinas, the site of this season's CCS championships.

Some of the section's top runners are expected to compete, including Los Gatos senior Matthew Petrillo and Aptos sophomore Rylan Hunt.

The Monta Vista girls hope to defend their 2005 Earlybird championship. Sophomore Jean Feng and seniors Lisa Worsham and Angela Hsu lead the Matadors.