Common bond


By Dennis Knight
Mercury News

It's a cast of characters that wouldn't seem to mesh -- an 800-meter runner, a converted badminton player, a one-time football player and a pair of brothers who bring sibling rivalry to a new level.

Carlmont Coach Jeff Gilkey has molded these divergent personalities into the No. 2-ranked boys cross-country team in the Central Coast Section.

``That's the best part about coaching this team,'' said Gilkey, who led the Scots to the CCS Division I title last year. ``This is a group of guys you would never imagine hanging out together, now they are inseparable. They've developed a bond from running a thousand miles together over the summer.''

Senior Greg Surh and junior Brad Surh have been going back and forth as the Scots' No. 1 and No. 2 runners. The brothers could pass for twins but have slightly different running styles. Greg is more of an endurance runner, while Brad has more speed.

``They are not as friendly to each other as some people think they should be when it comes to practice,'' said Gilkey, who was a member of the Arroyo High team that won the State Division I title in 1987. ``But that competitive attitude filters through the entire team and pushes each runner to give his best effort.''

Senior Nick Palladino, a classic 800-meter runner whose personal best time is 1 minute, 54.58 seconds, qualified for the state meet with a third-place finish (1:56.85) at the CCS track championships last year. Palladino has the cross-country team's best time on the Crystal Springs course this year with a 15:39.

``Nick has great speed and he's making a sacrifice for his teammates to run cross-country this season,'' Gilkey said.

Sophomore Chris Pedro entered high school as a youth football star, but at about 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds as a freshman, Pedro was persuaded by Gilkey to come out for the team.

``Chris is tough. He doesn't have much speed, but he will pound you for three miles,'' Gilkey said. ``If he keeps it up he could become a CCS champion.''

Senior Omeed Moghadam is a former badminton player who couldn't break 6 minutes for a mile when he was a sophomore -- now he is a productive team member who battles with junior Austin Logie to fill out the No. 5 spot for the Scots. Moghadam plans to run at USF next year.

``We're trying to instill an attitude where winning is expected at Carlmont,'' Gilkey said. ``These kids are all dedicated to that goal and we're working on building a strong tradition.''

• Alisal junior Diego Estrada has come a long way -- from being an average runner as a freshman to becoming one of the elite runners in the CCS.

Estrada's time of 15:28 is the fastest by any CCS runner this season on the three-mile Toro Park Course where the CCS finals will be held. Estrada has the best time among CCS athletes at all seven courses he has competed on this season.

After finishing third in the CCS Division I cross-country race as a sophomore, the 5-11, 135-pound Estrada finished second in the 3,200 (9:19.12) at the CCS track and field finals. This season he has wins at the Salinas City championship, the Earlybird Invitational, the Stanford Invitational and the Mt. SAC Individual Sweepstakes.

``Diego has become a student of the sport,'' Alisal Coach Ignacio Flores said. ``At Mt. SAC he hit the 2-mile mark in 10:17 and realized he had to push the pace and take control of the race. He is disciplined and committed and has developed an understanding of tactical racing.'' Estrada will compete in Division I at the CCS championships Nov. 11.

• The California Interscholastic Federation announced that Fresno's Woodward Park will remain the site for the state cross-country championships through 2009. Woodward Park has served as the state venue since the event's inception in 1987.

Runners hit magical mark

By David Kiefer and Dennis Knight
Mercury News

Among high school runners, breaking 15 minutes at Crystal Springs in Belmont is the magical equivalent of a 4-minute mile. The barrier has been broken 71 times by 45 individuals over the 35-year history of 2.95-mile course, which has hosted more than its share of major invitational and championship meets.

This week, Willow Glen junior Mohamed Abdalla and Los Gatos senior Matthew Petrillo became the 26th and 27th runners in Central Coast Section history to have done so. It's the first time since 2003 that two runners have accomplished the feat in the same year.

Abdalla broke his two-week-old personal record by one second, running 14:54. Coach Victor Santamaria believes the windy conditions at the Blossom Valley Athletic League championships Monday prevented Abdalla from dipping under 14:50, which hasn't been done since 1985.

His performances over the past month have signified a breakthrough for Abdalla, who is rapidly rising into the state-elite level.

``He's gotten to the point this year where he feels he belongs at the top of every race,'' Santamaria said. ``But breaking 15 minutes puts him in a whole different category. I'm not sure he understands that.

``He wants to run fast and he has ambitions to be at the national level. All his actions back that up.''

On Tuesday, Petrillo ran 14:57 to capture the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division title. Combined with a strong performance at the Mt. SAC Invitational on Oct. 21, Petrillo has proven that he has found his form.

``He's been ready for it for a long time,'' Los Gatos Coach Thomas Newman said. ``It's been his goal as long as he's been running on that course. More than anything, he's getting his confidence back.''

With Abdalla, Petrillo and Alisal junior Diego Estrada running better than ever, a single race for section supremacy would be a much-anticipated contest. Instead, each will run in different enrollment divisions at the CCS championships Nov. 11 at Toro Park in Salinas.

• The Los Gatos girls also made their stamp on Crystal Springs, running the third-fastest team time in course history on the way to winning the De Anza Division title.

The Wildcats' five-runner time of 93:33 was second in CCS history to the 2000 San Lorenzo Valley Division III state-championship team (93:09) and broke a 21-year-old school record by nearly two minutes. The course record of 93:07.9 was set in 1980 by Miramonte of Orinda.

``I told them they could do it and they looked at me like I was crazy,'' said Coach Monica Townsend, the No. 1 runner on the '85 team that held the school mark. ``They were all healthy, all fired-up and had the mental and physical abilities to really pull it together, and they did it.''

Second-place Jill Goodwin (18:20) led teammates Kaela Townsend (18:24), Erin Fabris (18:30), Paige Knudsen (18:24) and Jessica Fee (19:45).