Pick up the tempo … push it … run, run, run.
While the Lakers are trying to adjust to those precepts under new head coach Mike D’Antoni, the running game at Dos Pueblos High School has thrived since the start of the season in the sport of cross-country. Bryan Fernandez is the leader of the Chargers’ fast break. But he’s no Steve Nash, his coach asserted. “Nash is old. Bryan is just getting started,” boys’ coach Len Miller said.
Maybe so, but Fernandez is putting a spectacular finish on his high school cross-country career. The senior has won every race he’s run this fall, including several prestigious invitationals and the CIF Southern Section Division 2 Finals at Mt. San Antonio College.
Next up is the State Championship at Woodward Park in Fresno this Saturday, November 24. Fernandez is taking six teammates along with him, as the Chargers qualified for the boys’ team competition by finishing fifth at the sectional meet. Dos Pueblos will also be represented in the girls’ state meet by junior Addi Zerrenner, who qualified with an individual third-place finish in the section.
Fernandez, DP’s first individual CIF champion, has made a steady progression since he was, by his account, “terrible at running” at Kellogg School. “I was one of the slowest kids in 5th grade,” the Goleta native said. “I couldn’t stay coordinated.” One of the boys he couldn’t keep up with was Ben York, who is now the Chargers’ fifth or sixth runner. “They call me Fatty,” said York, who splits his time between cross-country and baseball. “I’ve got 30 pounds on the next heaviest guy on the team.”
Because of rainfall last weekend, the sectional finals were switched from a hilly course to a flat layout at Mt. San Antonio College. “That put a lot more people in the race because it favored speed over strength,” Fernandez said. “Our team has strength. We would have done better on the hills.” But Fernandez was not deterred. “I’ve been having good speed workouts,” he said. “I sat back the first half of the race, and then I took control at the two-mile mark.” He finished the 2.95-mile race in 14:06, two seconds clear of the runner-up. Max Davis of the Chargers finished eighth in 14:19.
Fernandez, Davis, and York, who finished 89th, are the senior leaders of a DP cross-country program that has grown to 70 boys since Miller started training the school’s distance runners in support of head coach Leslie Roth. “[Miller] would go around campus and say, ‘You look like a runner. What’s your phone number?’ And then he called you two hours later.” Fernandez said.
“I give 98 percent of the credit to the guys for what they’ve done,” Miller said. “They demonstrated their commitment by making every workout during the summer, showing up at 5:30, 6:30 in the morning. It’s their team. I’m working for them.”
Miller was a full-time coach of high-profile runners during the 1970s. He trained Eric Hulst, a legendary prep athlete, at Laguna Beach High, and he took Hulst, Ralph Serna, and Steve Scott to collegiate championships at UC Irvine. In the past few weeks, Miller has elevated his estimation of Fernandez to the highest level. “Bryan is qualified to have his name listed with Eric Hulst among the elite runners in the history of this state,” he declared.
Fernandez ran in the footsteps of Sergey Sushchikh at Dos Pueblos during his sophomore year. Sushchikh, now at UCLA, set a record of 15:08 on DP’s three-mile course. Early this fall, Fernandez clobbered it by running 14:21. “That was a goal of mine,” he said. His victories in the Woodbridge Classic, the Asics Clovis Invitational, and the Mt. SAC Invitational further enhanced his résumé.
COLLEGE CROSS-COUNTRY: The State Community College Cross-Country Championships took place at Woodward Park last weekend, and SBCC sophomore Cecilia Instebo finished second, leading the Vaqueros to seventh place in the women’s team race. Instebo’s time on the five-kilometer course was 18:14. In the NAIA Championships at Fort Vancouver, Washington, Westmont’s Matt Day finished 21st out of 309 runners.
IN OTHER SPORTS: Santa Barbara High went to the wire in the CIF boys’ water polo. Top-ranked Agoura defeated the Dons 7-4 in the Division 2 championship match. … Bishop Diego’s football team continues to add to its school-record victory total. The Cardinals are 12-0 after whipping Village Christian 28-14 in the CIF Northwest Division quarterfinals. They will travel to North Torrance on Friday night, one victory away from a shot at the Cardinals’ first CIF grid title.
SHOWDOWN AT THE COLISEUM: Scott Grimes and Bryson Lloyd, friends since their childhood in Santa Barbara, will be on opposite sides of Saturday’s Notre Dame-USC football game. Grimes, who was a golfer at Bishop Diego, is a student manager for the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish and assists the defensive coaches in the pressbox. Lloyd, a standout tight end at Santa Barbara High, is a senior long-snapper for the Trojans.