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Versatile Track Star Expects an Eventful Season at Woodbridge

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Every weekday at 2 p.m., members of Woodbridge High School’s track and field team begin warming up for their afternoon workout. After a slow jog, light stretching, drills and wind sprints, the athletes gather for a quick team meeting before dispersing into their particular groups:

Sprinters with sprinters, hurdlers with hurdlers, pole vaulters with pole vaulters

And Louie Muniz with Louie Muniz.

Muniz, a sprinter, long jumper, high hurdler, low hurdler and anchor of both the Warriors’ 400- and 1,600-meter relays, has something of a daily identity crisis.

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He knows who he is; he’s just not always sure, at track practice anyway, who he should be at the particular moment. When his teammates run off to work on their particular events, Muniz stands alone, wondering which way to go first.

“If I was cloned, that would be great,” Muniz said. “I mean, that would be perfect .”

It wouldn’t be too bad for Woodbridge either. Not that the Warriors are in desperate need of help. Led by the multitalented Muniz, the team is one of the top contenders to win the boys’ Southern Section 2-A title this season.

Saturday at the Katella Relays, the Warriors won the Division I championship, defeating, among others, Orange County powers Santa Ana Valley and Villa Park.

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Muniz’s contributions were pivotal.

With a 21-foot long jump, he helped Woodbridge’s three-man team win the long jump relay. He ran a 50.6 leg to lead the Warriors to a victory in the mile relay. He helped Woodbridge tie a school record (43.7) in the 400-meter relay and place second. And in the 800 relay, Muniz ran a personal-best anchor split of 21.5 to hold off Santa Ana Valley, which finished just a stride behind.

“After my freshman year, people would always say, ‘You’re going to carry the team when you’re a senior,’ ” said Muniz, a four-year varsity member. “I’d just say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I knew it wouldn’t be as easy as that.”

Muniz would be the first to admit it hasn’t been easy. Doing well in so many events has meant much longer practices than the average track and field athlete. His usual practice day runs from 2 to 6 p.m., while most of his teammates have finished their workouts by 5.

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“In practice, I’m always the last one out there at the end of the day,” Muniz said. “It gets depressing sometimes.

“When it’s 5 or 6 o’clock and the sun’s going down and you’re the only one around. . . . You see everyone else going home, people are coming home from work and you’re just sitting there going, ‘Hmmm.’ ”

Does he ever think of giving up the sport?

“Probably every day,” he said.

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But Muniz hangs in there because he hopes it will get him reach a goal--the state meet June 2-3 at Cerritos College.

“I want to get to state this year, just to say I made it,” he said. “I also want to place in all my four events at the (Southern Section) championships.”

Last year, Muniz qualified for the Southern Section championships in the long jump, 110 and 300 hurdles and 1,600 relay, but he failed to advance to the state meet when he placed no better than fifth in any of the events.

“I think I kind of psyched myself out last year,” he said. “I started thinking that maybe I was doing too much. I think I told myself it was too hard to do everything. This year I know that’s not true.”

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Woodbridge Coach George Varvas agrees.

“He’s a very durable and well-conditioned athlete,” Varvas said. “I never worry about him. Frankly, he could do a lot more if it were allowed.”

Muniz often has been asked whether he would like to pursue the decathlon. But at 6-foot-1, 145 pounds, Muniz admits he would have trouble with the strength events such as the shotput and discus.

Muniz said he owes much of his success to his family, which supports him in all his efforts. It’s not surprising, considering the family’s connection to track and field.

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Michelle Muniz, a junior, runs the 100 and 200 meters and anchors the 400 and 1,600 relays for the Woodbridge girls’ team.

Greg Muniz, a freshman, is a standout on the Warriors’ frosh-soph team. He runs both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, as well as the 400 and 1,600 relays.

And Louie Muniz Sr., is a Woodbridge assistant in his third year of coaching hurdlers. He also was an All-Southern Section hurdler for Santa Ana High in 1963. He went on to help Santa Ana College (now Rancho Santiago) to two consecutive state championships in 1964 and 1965.

“Oh, I still get butterflies when Louie competes,” he said. “It brings back a lot of memories.”

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It also gives the younger Louie a goal, to break his father’s best time in the high hurdles. Louie Sr. ran 14.3 in high school. His son has run 14.7.

Most agree that if Muniz concentrated on only the hurdles, he would excel even further. But, right now anyway, Muniz is content to spread himself thin.

“I feel if I do both hurdles, then everyone can know I have not only speed and technique but endurance, too,” he said. “And when I do a field event, it shows I can do more than just run. And the mile relay, well that’s where my team comes in.

“Sometimes I say to myself, ‘Be serious Louie, you’re not a machine! You don’t have to do all this.’ But it’s such a challenge, and I like challenges.”

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