BURBANK HIGH — It has been nine years since the Burbank boys' cross-country team qualified for the CIF-State Cross-Country Championships.
On that team in 2002, the Bulldogs possessed a strong duo of Kyle Ivie and Stratos Christianakis. Behind the talented pair, Burbank finished eighth out of 23 teams in the Division II race, recording 214 points and clocking a team time of 81 minutes 59 seconds on the Woodward Park course in Fresno.
The effort was even more impressive for the Bulldogs — who clocked 82:16 to take sixth in the division at the 2000 state meet and 21st out of 101 teams, regardless of division — considering they clocked 84:36 on the same course a month earlier in the Clovis Invitational.
This season, Burbank has another formidable 1-2 punch in sophomore Isaiah Amos and junior Sergio Fraire. And like the scenario nine years ago, the two have paced the Bulldogs to a berth in the State Meet. The Bulldogs will take part in the Division I race at 12:20 p.m. today at Woordard Park.
Burbank will be joined in the race by senior Anthony Monroy of Burroughs, who qualified for the CIF-State Cross-Country Championships as an individual for the second straight season.
"Having a front runner is essential, but having two who are darn-near bulletproof is a huge advantage over other teams," Burbank Coach Trevor Marca said. "The great thing is that they are both underclassmen, and that makes it really scary for the rest of the state.
Although Amos and Fraire have garnered much of the limelight for the Bulldogs this season, both are quick to give credit to their teammates for helping the team qualify for the elite competition.
"I don't think we would be able to achieve what we have if we didn't have the people that we have on the team this season," said Fraire about a squad that includes Jonathan Stoll, Arsen Mkrtchyan and Bernie Corea, with Stoll being the lone senior among the top scoring five. "We have a really good group."
Marca said Fraire has made big strides since emerging on the scene as a freshman three years ago and Amos showed signs of greatness as a freshman last season.
"I have been really impressed with Sergio because as a freshman he showed some amazing things that kind of foreshadowed that he would have this kind of success as a junior," Marca said. "But as a sophomore, he improved a little bit but he just didn't have that breakthrough year, almost like he skipped his sophomore season.
"Isaiah we always knew he had the talent; it was just a matter of him committing himself and kind of falling in love with the sport like the rest of his teammates. He did that, and the rest was pretty predictable."
Prior to the season, Marca hatched a plan to get the Bulldogs some much-needed experience this season and get the runners ready for a push for the State Meet next year. However, Burbank didn't stick to the plan.
The Bulldogs finished second behind a powerful Arcadia team in the Pacific League finals. In the CIF Southern Section preliminaries Nov. 12, Burbank finished second to top-ranked Rancho Cucamonga, 49-74, in the competitive Division I race.
In the CIF Southern Section Finals a week ago, the Bulldogs notched the seventh and final qualifying spot, punching their ticket to state competition.
Although both runners said they are looking forward to the race, each takes a slightly different approach to the competition.
"I want to look at it as just another race," Amos said. "I try not to get excited about any particular race and I just like to approach them all the same."
Said Fraire: "I kind of don't care too much about where I stand compared to everyone else, but as long as I do my best and I give it 100% I will be satisfied."
Amos said the team's success this season has been a pleasant surprise.
"We kind of knew it was a possibility that we could make it [to the State Meet] this year," said Amos, who placed fourth in the Pacific League finals. "We just wanted to work as hard as we could and see if we get there this year. We knew this is a great experience for us."
Marca said the acceleration of the team this year is a welcomed accomplishment.
"It actually works perfectly," he said. "Now we get experience at the State Meet this year, so next year it won't be enough to just be there but we'll be there to win it. We will have four of our top five returning and we have some young guys and some juniors who will be looking to challenge for some spots."
But as far as today's race is concerned, Marca said there is no pressure on his young squad.
"I tell them the pressure's off because we know this is going to be our last meet, whereas there is a ton of pressure if we don't perform last week because it would be over," Marca said. "So I tell them that no one expected us to get this far a and they can just go out there, do their best, have fun and we'll celebrate one heck of a season.
"But with that said, I don't see why we can't finish among the top 10, or even the top seven."