On the surface, Brandon Del Campo of Thousand Oaks High appears to be the same determined runner who was the Lancers' top gun during the first half of the 1992 cross-country season.
But underneath the senior's exterior lies a more-relaxed, less-pressured, and perhaps in the long run, a healthier athlete.
Del Campo led Thousand Oaks to the team title in Saturday's Royal Invitational at Moorpark College by winning with a time of 15 minutes 38 seconds over the three-mile course. Yet he appeared to be as concerned with his teammates' performances as his own.
"Any time you can win a race like this against a field of this quality, it's nice," Del Campo said. "But our team is so strong this season that I realize that I don't have to be on top every race for us to do well. Last year, I always felt like I had to be way ahead of our second man, but this year I don't."
Thousand Oaks, the No. 1-ranked team in the state Division I poll, placed five runners in the top nine to total 28 points. Arroyo Grande, led by third-place Eric Dunn (15:57), finished second with 94 points, followed by Peninsula (99), Camarillo (114) and Buena (142).
Peninsula, paced by individual champion Molly Mehlberg, placed five runners among the top 10 finishers to win the girls' title with 35 points. Buena (66), Thousand Oaks (119), Fillmore (128) and Arroyo Grande (132) rounded out the top five.
Although Thousand Oaks' dominance in the boys' race was so complete that the Lancers could have won without their top two finishers, it might have been their least-impressive performance this season.
"We had a couple of kids who were a little flat today," Coach Jack Farrell said. "But you can't expect to run a monster race every week."
Monster expectations weighed heavily on Del Campo as a junior. He said they contributed to a series of leg injuries that hampered him during the second half of the cross-country season and ended his track season prematurely.
"You could say (the injuries were) bad luck," Del Campo said. "But I think there were some cross-country dual meets where I didn't need to run as hard as I did. I could have taken it easier. This year's team is strong enough that if I'm just with the main group of our guys, we're going to be in good shape. . . . Hopefully, that will mean a healthy season."
Del Campo took charge quickly Saturday. He led the pack by five seconds at the one-mile mark (4:55), extended that advantage to 12 seconds, and withstood a brief charge by Camarillo junior Eleazar Hernandez (15:49) late in the race.
"I was kind of surprised that with this type of field, no one was closer to me at the mile," Del Campo said. "But I think everyone was kind of conservative because of the heat. I know I didn't go up the hills after the first mile as hard as I usually would. I wanted to make sure I had something left for when I got up on top of the course."
Jeff Fischer (16:01), Chadd Aldrich (16:15), Kevin Marsden (16:23) and Keith O'Doherty (16:26) rounded out the Lancer scoring in fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth.
Mehlberg, a junior, won the girls' race in 18:40. Thousand Oaks sophomore Kim Mortensen placed second in 20:00 with Buena junior Amy Van Atta third in 20:14.