Desiree Bracey and Dustin James sat in the near-empty stands of UC Irvine's track stadium one afternoon this week, laughing and teasing each other.
"The true story is, I wanted him to come to school with me," said Bracey, a sophomore sprinter who won the Big West Conference titles in the 100 and 200 meters last weekend.
The problem was, James, who was still a senior at Ontario High School last year, already had been accepted by California and UCLA but had not applied to UC Irvine in time.
Bracey, already getting a taste of separation from James during her freshman year, decided to take things into her own hands.
"Run track," she told James, her boyfriend of about three years. James had played only football and basketball at Ontario High School before that, but he said he'd try it.
Then Bracey went to work at Irvine, knowing that an athlete could be admitted after the regular deadline if he were recruited.
She started hanging around the track office, showing the coaches newspaper clippings with James' times in them.
"It's not my fault your boyfriend didn't send in the application," said Danny Williams, the women's track coach.
"Look, he's doing good," she said.
As James' times got faster, the coaches started paying attention.
Last weekend, as Bracey prepared to run the 100 meters, she watched her top recruit win a race for UC Irvine.
James, recruited to Irvine after only one season of high school track, won the Big West title in the 400 meters in 47.03 seconds as a freshman.
Bracey smiled at the thought of it.
"I didn't know he'd be as good as he is," she said.
James, who also placed second in the 200 meters and ran legs on the winning 400-meter relay and 1,600-meter relay teams, couldn't have expected so much himself.
"Being a freshman, you're not expected to do a lot," he said. "To win was mind-blowing. I was happy."
It has made for an interesting year, and a more pleasant one for Bracey and James than the last.
"When I came here, I didn't have a car," Bracey said. "I didn't see him the whole track season."
James shook his head.
"That was a long track season," he said.
Bracey thought back to the few times they got together last spring.
"We did get to see each other on his recruiting trip," she said.
This year, they usually train at the same time, and most of the time they compete at the same meets.
"One time, the top sprinters were going to Arizona and the others were going to Fresno," James said. "She told me she was glad I did good so I could go with her. She said, 'I'm glad you're not sorry (at track).' "
Bracey, who went to Pius X High School and met James in 1988 at a church youth meeting, has made her mark quickly at Irvine, setting a school record in the 100 Saturday with a time of 11.73, which was also a provisional NCAA qualifying time, meaning she could make the NCAA meet at Eugene, Ore., if the field isn't filled by faster times.
"If she goes, I'll try to go just to watch her," James said. He'll also be competing this summer, hoping to make the U.S. junior national team. If he does, she'll try to follow him where they send him to compete if she can.
"A lot of money spent, but it will be worth it," she said.
All told, things have worked out a lot better than they would have if James had gone to Colorado to run track, as he was thinking of doing after his early success.
"That's a lot farther than 45 miles," Bracey said.
Instead, they are so close that they could race against each other, if they wanted.
"We raced once. Remember that time?" James said. "She stopped. I let her get a lead, and she stopped."
"I didn't want to embarrass you in front of all those people," she said.
The women's cross-country team has received the school's award for the highest team grade-point average for the sixth consecutive year, earning the award with a 3.089 team GPA.
Eight members of that team will be among 92 Irvine athletes honored as Big West/UCI scholar athletes at an upcoming banquet. Requirements for the award include maintaining a 3.0 GPA during the past three quarters, or for freshmen, a 3.2 over the past two quarters, as well as lettering in a sport.
Steve Florentine, a senior on the men's volleyball team, was named most valuable player at the team's banquet Sunday. Chad Milling, a sophomore, was named most improved. John Loo won the coach's award, and senior Dave Pettker was named most inspirational.
James Davis, a senior who along with Pettker helped found the team on the club level five years ago, was given the captain's award.
The baseball team is awaiting word on the budget crisis in uncomfortable suspense, hoping the just-completed season does not prove to be its last.
Even though the team's 24-32 record (6-15 in the Big West) was disappointing, several Anteaters finished the season with notable achievements.
--Chris Huber, a senior right-hander, finished with 111 strikeouts, the second-highest mark in Irvine history behind Gary Wheelock's 140 strikeouts in 1974. Huber walked only 28 batters in 139 1/3 innings.
--Al Rodriguez, a senior shortstop who was plagued by a back injury, finished as Irvine's career-leader in at-bats with 830, and his 260 hits are second only to Mike Nagle's 272 from 1978-81. In his four-year career, Rodriguez struck out only 54 times, once every 15.4 at-bats.
--Bryant Winslow, a senior first baseman/designated hitter, set a school record with 10 home runs this season, breaking the record of nine shared by five players.
The following is a list of Big West/UCI Scholar-Athletes: Baseball--Chris Huber, Craig Plumley. Men's basketball--Don May. Women's basketball--Kristi Ahlstedt, Yvonne Catala. Men's cross-country--Kevin Berko, Toss Coulston, David Hesseltine, Michael Nielsen, Robert Price. Women's cross-country--Maria Akraka, Shama Factor, Traci Goodrich, Roberta Moronez, Brandy Price, Buffy Rabbitt, Akemi Royer, Andrea Sansom. Crew--Jerry Aguiar, Dave Brady, Blake Buyan, Nicomedes Camacho, Victor Edgerston, Thomas Grace, Kim Hoelscher, Lucius McKelvy, Jennifer Phillips, William Saacke, Nicole Seu, Ori Shinar, Steve Vanderbok. Golf--Joey Sugar. Sailing--James Anderson, Carrie Butler, Lisa Griffith, Brad Haney, Adam Lake, Sarah Robertson, Akio Utsumi. Men's soccer--Ralph Guzman, Erik Nasseranko, Anthony Russomanno, Dave Smith, David Weidner, Robert Wynner. Women's soccer--Michele Braceros, Ingrid Evans, Keery McGrath, Julie Megorden, Sheri Miranda, Melissa Pilgrim. Men's swimming and diving--Alex Abshier, Ken Cooper, Andy Fujimoto, Chris Marx. Women's swimming and diving--Trishna Coleman, Kim Kaufmann, Grace Moon, Rachel Newport, Gwynne Partos, Patricia Seino, Nicole Yanda. Men's tennis--Neel Grover, Carsten Hoffman, Andy Joe, Mike Roberts, Brett Stern. Women's tennis--Stacey Cadigan, Biljana Korac, JenniferMazgedian, Ali Yoshimoto. Men's track and field--Haile Clay, Cory Conniff, Matt Corse, Chris Hansen, WaydeHauptmeier, Mike Hewitt, Doug Nichols, Pat Pence, Alfred Soboyejo, Danny Serna. Women's track and field--Cara Brookhouse, Carolyn Griffin, Kristi Kaufmann, Brigid Stirling, Shelly Tochluk, Theresa Tullock, Caroline Plier. Men's volleyball--John Loo. Women's volleyball--Kris Puttler. Water polo--Kevin Leinbach, Pablo Yrizar.