A high school cross-country race can be a dreadful challenge — three miles of twists and turns and ups and downs over uneven terrain — but Dos Pueblos High senior Sergey Sushchikh has been making it look easy. He has won three consecutive races on three different courses, and after finishing, he has had time to turn around and welcome the runners he left in the dust.
Another difficult matter might seem to be the pronunciation of his last name, but Sergey (pronounced: Ser·gay) makes that easy as well. “Say ‘sushi’ and add a soft ‘k’ at the end,” he said.
Sushchikh was seven years old when his family moved to Santa Barbara from St. Petersburg, Russia. His parents, Michael and Svetlana, are researchers at UCSB in chemical engineering and aerodynamics. Sergey already had an impression of his new home from the soap opera Santa Barbara, a popular TV show in Russia. “It had the picture of the harbor,” he said. “My friends were pretty jealous.”
Sushchikh rapidly adapted to his new surroundings, from learning the nuances of the English language to achieving balance on a skateboard. The first team sport he tried was basketball, but he soon realized he would never be anything like his favorite players on the Boston Celtics. It does show his fearlessness that he would openly be a fan of the Celtics in Laker country.
“I found out I was good at running,” said Sushchikh, who carries a lean 145 pounds on a 5’11” frame. At Dos Pueblos, he came under the tutelage of Len Miller, a former college coach who volunteered to train the distance runners. “Len Miller’s influence got Sergey where he is,” DP cross-country coach Leslie Roth said. “For him to tell Sergey that he compares with the best athletes he ever coached really built his confidence.”
Sushchikh, who won the two-mile at the county track championships last spring, likes cross-country because of the camaraderie. “Running with the team is inspirational,” he said. “You have seven or nine guys who get close and know each other well.” He was the county’s cross-country champion in 2009, when he won five straight races and qualified for the CIF Finals. He had one of the top times in the prelims on the tough Mt. San Antonio College course but went 20 seconds slower in the final. “I peaked too early,” he said. “This year, I want to go all the way to the state meet.”
If he does, he can credit the work he put in during the summer. Instead of giving in to the lazy days, he got up and ran almost every day, averaging 60 to 80 miles a week. “I was more motivated than ever,” he said. “I started lifting weights and swam a thousand meters once a week.”
Last week he won the first Channel League meet on the Dos Pueblos course. His time of 15 minutes, 8.13 seconds shattered his previous course record of 15:45. He also defended his championship in the Blue Lagoon Invitational at UCSB, improving his time to 15:12 from 15:48. In the first meet of the year, Sushchikh won the Don Bosco Tech Invitational in Downey in a sizzling 14:32.
Sushchikh will be racing Friday (Oct. 1) in the Dos Pueblos Invitational at Shoreline Park. The competition starts at 2:45 p.m. There will be separate races for boys and girls in each grade level. The schools with the best overall results will claim the sweepstakes trophy. Dos Pueblos, led by senior Erin Campbell, is the defending girls’ champion. The DP boys will try to unseat Long Beach Poly, which has won five consecutive sweepstakes crowns. Besides Sushchikh in the senior race, the Chargers have a sophomore contender in Bryan Fernandez.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: The menu is full of tasty choices, beginning today (Thu., Sept. 30) when the Dos Pueblos Chargers visit Santa Barbara High for a 6 p.m. girls volleyball showdown. UCSB, off to a 2-0 start in Big West women’s volleyball, returns to the Thunderdome against Long Beach State (7 p.m. Friday) after a month on the road. In prep football Friday night, the Santa Barbara Dons host Nordhoff in their homecoming game, and Dos Pueblos goes for its third consecutive victory against visiting Rio Mesa. College soccer takes center stage Saturday. Westmont celebrates its homecoming with a double-header (men, 1pm; women, 3:30pm) against San Diego Christian. UCSB’s men, energized by an astounding turnout of 15,896 fans (the largest on-campus attendance for a regular-season soccer game in NCAA history) who watched their 2-0 victory over UCLA last week, will return to Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday against UC Davis. The Gauchos entered the week on a three-match winning streak, and freshman striker David Opoku scored goals in all three games.