It’s a Sweet Sub-16 for Antelope Valley’s Melena
Who is this guy? Where did he come from?
Many cross-country fans have asked those questions about Jose Melena of Lancaster Antelope Valley High in the last month.
Melena, a freshman, turned in a noteworthy 16-minute 7-second clocking to place second in a Division II heat at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational on Oct. 20. But the 5-foot-5, 115-pound runner really caught people’s attention Saturday when he ran 15:37 over Mt. SAC’s 2.91-mile course to place seventh in a Division II qualifying heat of the Southern Section preliminaries.
The time ranked 17th among Division II qualifiers for Saturday’s championships at Mt. SAC and was 26 seconds faster than any other freshman in the meet at any level.
“I knew he was going to break 16 [minutes],” Coach Chris Broskoff said. “But I was a little surprised with 15:37. I think he can go 15:20 [in the section final]. He’s a machine. I can give him a certain pace to run in workouts, say 70 seconds for a 400, and he’ll just knock off the laps.”
Melena, a longtime soccer player who has run the last two L.A. Marathons with his mother Yolanda, ran in some local road races for middle-school children when he was in the seventh grade.
He started running at an organized level in the eighth grade and placed 15th in his age group in the national Junior Olympic cross-country championships in December and won the 3,000 meters in 9:26.15 at the track championships in July.
Melena expected to do well in his first season at the high school level but figured he’d accomplished quite a bit when he placed third in the Golden League finals on Oct. 31 to qualify for the section preliminaries.
Now he’s a sleeper pick to advance to the state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 24.
“I’m just trying to shave off more time from what I did Saturday,” he said. “If I run well, maybe 10-15 seconds faster.”
Marked improvement: Hesperia Sultana has been ranked among the top five Division II girls’ teams in the Southern Section most of the season, but the Sultans hadn’t looked like defending champions until the section preliminaries.
“This just hasn’t been a good season for us,” Coach John Mahr said. “We lost two of our top runners to soccer injuries.”
Junior Lindsey Shumaker strained a ligament in her right knee in mid-September and freshman Jessica Meredith broke her left leg the day after she helped Sultana to an eighth-place finish in the individual sweepstakes race at the Mt. SAC Invitational.
The Sultans’ top five runners had a cumulative time of 100:31 at Mt. SAC, but they clocked 96:34 in winning their heat in the preliminaries.
“I’d like to say we planned it,” Mahr said about the improvement. “But it just kind of happened. I think we’re just starting to jell after having everyone healthy for about the last month.”
Sophomore jinx? Lindsey Owen of Ojai Nordhoff, the defending state and Southern Section Division III champion, is not expected to run Saturday because of a leg injury that has sidelined her for a week and a half.
Owen improved rapidly at the end of her freshman season, finishing 18th in the West region championships at Mt. SAC, but never displayed that form this season.