Div. I, II champs show what it takes to become winners

By David Kiefer
Mercury News

The first person to congratulate Los Gatos High's Matthew Petrillo for his course-record performance at the Central Coast Section cross-country championships was Diego Estrada.

The Alisal junior was sincerely happy for Petrillo, who won the Division II title in 15 minutes, 12 seconds over three miles Saturday at Toro Park in Salinas. But Estrada also found a source of motivation.

Petrillo received congratulations from teammates and friends, and Estrada remarked to his coach, ``I'll get it next year.'' Though the meet was highlighted by dominant performances in several races, no runners better characterized the effort it takes to be a champion than Petrillo and Estrada, the Division I winner.

Petrillo's only other race at Toro Park this year was a disaster in his mind. Aiming to break his course record of 15:21 shared with former Menlo-Atherton standout Jeremy Mineau, Petrillo finished more than 20 seconds short. He felt comfortable saying that no other runner his age prepared as well as he had. But when he dropped his mileage as the season began, his racing suffered. Once he increased his workload and found the right formula, he's been running better than ever.

``Everything was perfect,'' he said after leading the Wildcats to their second team title and seventh overall. ``This is exactly how I would've wanted my senior year to end.''

Estrada had the best year of any CCS runner, winning his division at the prestigious Stanford and Mt. SAC invitationals. But during the Tri-County Athletic League meet, Estrada suffered a cramp that didn't go away. The pain worsened over the past couple of weeks, and Estrada began to have trouble breathing.

Even eating has been difficult, and he has been unable to consume solid foods for the past two days. Doctors say Estrada might have suffered an abdominal muscle strain, and recommended rest.

``It was 50-50 on whether he would run today,'' Coach Ignacio Flores said. ``I don't know how he did it.''

Flores left the decision to Estrada and his family. To Estrada, it was an easy one.

``I told him in the beginning, `I'm going to win state,' '' Estrada said. ``But I had to get past CCS to do it. That wasn't even a question.''

Running with a pouch of Icy Hot strapped to his stomach, Estrada changed his strategy to take a substantial early lead, allowing him room to fall back if the pain became too great. The pain was there, it was obvious in his face.

``If it wasn't for qualifying for state, I would have dropped out,'' he said. Instead, Estrada got through it, winning in 15:41.

The top runners often don't race one another in a five-division format and that was the case for Valley Christian-Dublin's Robbie Knorr, who won his third consecutive Division V title (15:50), by 45 seconds. The 6-foot-4 Knorr, who will run at Baylor next season, is a contender to win a state title Nov. 25 at Woodward Park in Fresno.

Willow Glen junior Mohamed Abdalla won the Division III title (15:21) and Santa Cruz junior Michael Landry (15:55) won the Division IV crown.

Leland sophomore Stephanie Barnett was the most impressive among the girls, running the best of 18:12 in a Division II race controlled by Los Gatos.

Barnett, who ran relaxed and comfortable, said her mental strength and confidence have improved greatly this season. Barnett said she actually looked forward to the long hill at Toro that can be deadly to the unprepared.

``I don't think any course is harder than the workouts we do at Almaden Quicksilver Park,'' she said.

The meet's biggest breakthrough might have come from a 4-8, 68-pound Half Moon Bay freshman. The results list her as Samantha Hamilton, but she calls herself Sammy.

``She hates `Samantha,' '' Coach Paul Farnsworth said.

Her size offers no clues to her intensity. Farnsworth will sometimes tease her, yelling, ``Go, little girl,'' during a race, just to fire her up.

She didn't need such tactics in the Division IV race, sprinting past Carmel senior Thea Lee on the downhill to win in 18:25. It is the fastest time ever for a freshman on that course. Her previous best on the course was 20:03. Sophomores Justine Fedronic (18:24) and Hayley Pascale (18:37) led Carlmont to a repeat Division I title.

St. Ignatius sophomore Katy Daly (18:23) pulled away from San Lorenzo Valley junior Taylor Johnson (18:39) to win in Division III. SLV, which had reached the state meet the past seven years, finished fifth to have its streaked snapped by one point. Sobrato, however, finished third and will make its first state appearance in any sport.

Freshman Carolyn Rennels (20:05) became the sixth consecutive Division V champion from Castilleja.

Check out Dave Kiefer's After School blog at hssports. Contact him at