CROSS-COUNTRY : Sonora Keeps Meet on Course Despite Last-Second Change

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sonora cross-country Coach Ross Dunton had 48 hours to perform a miracle: Construct a three-mile course at the high school for Saturday's Sonora Invitational race, which had a change of venue after fears over the potentially deadly hantavirus moved it out of Carbon Canyon Regional Park, the race's original site.

Very little sleep and 200 flyers later, Dunton and track Coach Bryan Humphrey played hosts to a successful race, with 26 schools and more than 250 athletes competing. Dunton said about five schools canceled, and "only one coach said it with a bad attitude."

The course, printed on 200 maps, proved challenging even for Sonora athletes.

While the erratic layout confused and irritated some, it won mostly favorable reviews.

"It was fast and boring," said Marina's Kara Connors, who finished second in the girls' Division I frosh-soph race.

Lakewood's Blanca Gandarilla led for most of the Division II varsity race, but had to slow and ask for directions during the last mile, and was caught by Troy's Liz Sinclair. Gandarilla's teammate, Maribel Rendon, was not happy with the course. "It's hard going from flat to grassy (surfaces)," she said. "You have to change how you run."

But Sinclair was satisfied. "I like this course better because it's flat; we run on hills," she said. Sinclair opened up on the last lap around the track, finishing 27 seconds ahead of Gandarilla in 19:52.6.

Sinclair led Troy to second in the team race with 61 points, behind Orange County's only team winner, Sonora (46).

Ian Enriquez, a junior from Corona, turned in the best time of the day, finishing the boys' Division I varsity race in 15:56.7. Lakewood's Leo Medina had a 100-yard lead by the end of the first lap around the grassy square, but Enriquez passed him in the next mile.

"I ran the course for the first time today," Enriquez said. "It was confusing at first, but after the first few times I remembered it's a pretty good track--a lot of flat surfaces. But I've never seen the park, so I didn't mind the change."

By 11 a.m., when the boys' Division II varsity race was on, the morning fog had given way to thick, sticky heat, and enthusiasm waned. Ryan O'Hara of Hacienda Heights Wilson, who ran a 16:33.7, said, "It's kind of late in the day for races. This is more like a track meet. The park would have been more of a real cross-country meet."

But Dunton pronounced the event a success. "I'm happy. It's never been held here, so I don't have anything to compare it to," he said. "But I think the kids had fun. It was ideal for the spectators."

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