Saddleback Duo Aiming for Success

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The night before a cross-country race, Eddie Salinas neatly lays out his Saddleback High School uniform--neon yellow shorts, white singlet, blue racing socks and shoes--on his bedroom floor.

He then loads his cassette deck with heavy metal tunes, dons his headphones and goes to sleep--on the floor beside his uniform.

"I'm not really superstitious, but a lot of times when I do this it gives me luck," Salinas said. "When I don't, like when I'm too tired or something, things always seem to go wrong."

Salinas' teammate, Joe Heredia, also has a night-before-a-race ritual.

Heredia visualizes the race he hopes to run, all with the beat of reggae music blaring from his headphones.

"I imagine people in front of me and then I see me passing them, 1-2-3," Heredia said. "And I listen to Bob Marley. Man, he's . . . he's the best. "

While Salinas and Heredia prepare for a race differently, their aim is the same--to lead Saddleback, the No. 1-ranked team in the Southern Section 4-A, to its best season ever.

"We're on a mission," Salinas said.

"We're on a war path," Heredia added.

Whatever they're on, Salinas and Heredia are the keys to Saddleback's success this year. They're also best friends and share an American Indian heritage--Heredia's parents are of the southern Arizona-based Yaqui tribe; Salinas' mother is also a Yaqui.

Ironically, Salinas and Heredia have been given the nickname, 'the Kenyan Brothers' because, they say, they are tall, skinny--both are in the 6-foot 130-pound range--and fast.

The two became especially close after the death of Heredia's father last fall. He died in an automobile accident the week before the Southern Section preliminaries.

"From that moment, Eddie took Joey under his wing," Saddleback Coach Mel Silva said.

Salinas, a senior, is expected to lead the Roadrunners--if not the county--this year.

Last fall, he finished as the third-fastest Orange County runner at the state cross-country championships, placing 19th overall. He will be challenged this year by Dana Hills' Daniel Niednagel and La Habra's Mark Gonzales, both seniors.

"My goal is to be No. 1--No. 1 in the county," Salinas said. "I gotta beat Niednagel. It's going to be hard--I'll have to be really mentally prepared, not just physically. If I'm really prepared mentally, I might be able to get him. . . .

"But Gonzales . . . Oh! He's fast. He's quick. "

Heredia, a junior, was not a front-runner last year, but he has improved dramatically over the summer, Silva said. Heredia's task is to replace former teammate Robby Price, who graduated.

But that's not to say Heredia won't be gunning for Salinas. Last year, Heredia broke Salinas' sophomore-class cross-country school record by one second.

"My goal is to beat Eddie," Heredia said, smiling at Salinas. Salinas smiled back, welcoming the challenge.

"But this year, with all the pressure on me to take Rob's place, it's more like I'm racing Rob's ghost," Heredia said.

But both agree their No. 1 goal is a team-oriented one.

"We want to win--that's what's going to be on our minds," Salinas said.

"The runners at Saddleback hate to lose," Heredia added. "We hate to lose."

Until last year, Saddleback, a traditionally weak program, did plenty of losing. But the Roadrunner program took a major turn for the better in 1989.

It swept through Sea View League competition, beating long-time power Corona del Mar for the first time in the school's history.

"Last year, the whole year it was 'Beat Corona. Beat Corona. Beat Corona ,' " Heredia said. "We were so ready to beat them, when we finally got to the starting line, we exploded. . . .

"We hate Corona del Mar so much. I mean, they're nice people, but we hate them."

But now, Saddleback has greater challenges on which to focus. Namely, winning the 4-A title or bettering last year's sixth-place finish at the state championships. With an enrollment of 2,581, Saddleback will compete in the large schools division (Division I).

Said Heredia: "We want to win Orange County, hopefully win (the Southern Section 4-A title) and if we could, grab the state championships, too. . . . "

Salinas gave Heredia a stern glance, and Heredia quickly added: "We're not saying we will do all those things, they're just our goals."

1990 PREP BOYS' CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW Top Teams: (Listed alphabetically) Dana Hills, El Modena, El Toro, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Saddleback, Santa Ana, Santa Ana Valley, Villa Park.

Top Individuals: Mark Gonzales (senior, La Habra), Daniel Niednagel (senior, Dana Hills), Eddie Salinas (senior, Saddleback).

Important Dates: Oct. 13, Orange County Championships; Oct. 20, Mt. SAC Invitational; Nov. 10, Southern Section preliminaries; Nov. 15, Southern Section finals; Nov. 24, State Championships.

Notes: Saddleback, the county's overwhelming favorite, had Robby Price graduate, but the core of its Southern Section 4-A runner-up team is back. Salinas and Joey Heredia will lead the Roadrunners, the defending Sea View League champions, with sophomores Mario Vela, Johnny Ochoa and seniors Albert Acevez, Albert Ochoa and Elias Gil serving as supporting cast. At Santa Ana Valley, Coach George Payan says he's willing to gamble the entire season for his team to have a shot at winning the state title. Payan, who says this team is the best he's had in his 18 years of coaching, said he will not run any invitationals, saving his team instead for Southern Section and state competition. "The kids are all (angry) because I told them we're not going to any invitationals," said Payan, who added that he may run his team at the Orange County Championships. "But I say, hey you want the fun of the invitationals or do you want to win the whole banana?" Individually, watch for Niednagel of Dana Hills, Salinas of Saddleback and Gonzales of La Habra. Gonzales, who kept a low profile last year and had his track season cut short by a stress fracture, says he's fit and ready to contend for the county championship.

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