Katella's Pinto Sets Sights on Stars

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soaring through space and exploring outer galaxies, Martha Pinto says, has always been one of her greatest dreams. Becoming an astronaut has been her long-time goal. But Pinto's friends tell her to forget it.

"They say it will be too hard for me because I am too short," said Pinto, a 4-foot-11, 102-pound senior at Katella High School. "They say, 'It's not possible for you. Don't think about it; it won't happen.' "

You would think her friends would know better.

Pinto, a three-time Orange County cross-country champion, is not one to be underestimated. Ever since she ran her first race at Katella three years ago, she has exceeded nearly everyone's expectations.

Last spring, at the state track and field championships, Pinto even surprised herself as she finished second to Agoura's Deena Drossin in the girls' 3,200-meter final. Her time of 10 minutes 42.51 seconds--fifth-fastest in county history--cut an impressive 11 seconds off her previous best.

"She still talks about how she can't believe she did what she did at the state meet," Katella Coach Dave Wilson said. "Because of that race, her confidence has really improved."

Improved enough, perhaps, to put her on a par with the county's most celebrated high school runner, Shelley Taylor of Edison. Taylor, a junior, has been the class of Orange County since her debut as a freshman. But Pinto, who has yet to outrun Taylor, seems to be closing in.

Though Taylor says she won't be at the Orange County Championships Oct. 13 to challenge Pinto in her attempt to win a fourth county title, the two will meet Oct. 6 at the Central Park Invitational in Huntington Beach and Oct. 20 at the Mt. SAC Invitational.

It will be at Mt. SAC, the largest and one of the most prestigious cross-country invitationals in the nation, where Pinto and Taylor again will meet Drossin, the two-time cross-country state champion and the fastest 3,200-meter runner in the country last spring.

"Right now, Martha's eyes are on Deena Drossin," Wilson said. "Martha doubted herself before, but now she knows she has what it takes to run like that."

But Pinto has another source of motivation--her team.

Until this year, Katella's cross-country team has had little talent. In fact, there were times when the Knights could not field the five required runners for a team score. Now, with six runners to back Pinto, that has changed.

"In the last few years, we have had to literally drag kids off the cheerleading squad just to have five runners," Wilson said. "When Martha would finish a race, people would always say, 'Oh, that's Martha Pinto. She's great, but she has no team.' Martha hated that. As good as she is individually, she always wanted teammates."

Donna Mills, a junior who transferred from Tustin last year, adds the biggest boost. The Southern Section 3-A 800-meter champion last spring, Mills has run 2:15 in the 800.

Senior Sarah Thornton, a 300-meter hurdler and soccer player, is a former cheerleader.

"We just saw her jogging once and said, 'Hey, come here! We need a fifth girl!' " Wilson said. He added that, instead of cheerleading, Thornton will attend Katella football games in a knight costume, as the team's mascot.

Seniors Debbie Germinaro and Denia Quinonez, junior Laura Gamez and freshman Rene Arellano--whom Wilson calls the "next Martha"--make up the rest of the team.

Said Pinto: "It will be nice not having to always train with the boys."

1990 PREP GIRLS' CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW Top Teams: (Listed alphabetically) Capistrano Valley, Corona del Mar, El Modena, El Toro, Irvine, Los Alamitos, San Clemente, Tustin, Woodbridge.

Top Individuals: Tanja Brix (junior, University), Christie Engesser (sophomore, Ocean View), Martha Pinto (senior, Katella), Terri Smythers (senior, San Clemente), Shelley Taylor (junior, Edison).

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: With juniors Michelle Skinner and Jamie Samkus, Capistrano Valley, the defending champion of the South Coast League, returns the core of its team that placed eighth in the Souhtern Section 4-A division. . . . Defending Sea View Lague champion Corona del Mar, third in the State Division II last year, graduated one runner (Johanna Wallin) from its top five. Kirsten McFarland, Kristen Shryock and Heather Bray will lead the Sea Kings. Corona del Mar will have a tough time repeating as league champions, though, as Woodbridge joins the league after winning three consecutive Pacific Coast League titles. Tustin, featuring several tenacious newcomers, may also contend for the Sea View title. . . . Individually, Edison's Taylor should once again be the runner to beat. She says feels very fit. "My goal is to win state," said Taylor, who finished 10th in the state meet as a freshman and seventh last year. "I think I've waited long enough," she said. San Clemente's Smythers, who decided to retire from competition last spring because of burnout, said she is running again and looking forward to racing.

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