Maturity guides Daniel De La Torre to successful track season

Maybe the biggest difference between successful campaigns book marked with disappointing finishes was a slight, but important, shift in attitude for La Salle High senior Daniel De La Torre.

Last year at this time, De La Torre was a 17-year-old filled with disbelief after finishing ninth in the 1,600-meters and fourth in the 3,200 at the 2012 CIF State Track and Field Championships in Clovis.

His hopes for a state title faded into the sweltering 100-degree heat.

The conclusion to his junior season proved to be a bitter pill, as De La Torre admitted having trouble resting during a month-long summer break.

"I couldn't sleep. That finish at state was something I thought about for a long time," De La Torre said. "When you work so hard for so long and it doesn't go your way, it's hard to accept."

An angst-filled summer gave way slowly.

"It was tough at times because Daniel wants to win, wants to be the best at everything and sometimes that just can't happen," La Salle assistant Duane Norris said. "He had the work ethic, but not the understanding that everything can always go the way you want."

Eventually, De La Torre emerged in the fall and enjoyed a wildly successful 2012 cross-country campaign that ended with a Division IV state championship.

That redemption and the lessons from 12 months ago might very well serve De La Torre this fall as the senior again struggled at the 2013 state track and field final before finishing ninth in the 3,200 in 9 minutes, 10.09 seconds and 20th in the 1,600 in 4:18.42.

For a second straight season, De La Torre's body tensed up in near triple-digit heat.

Like last season, De La Torre was left without answers.

"I don't know what to say. My body just didn't react the way I thought it would," De La Torre said. "I guess it wasn't ready."

Yet, this time, rather than be engulfed with bitterness, De La Torre showed a level of maturity unseen only a season earlier.

"I had a good year. I think I can be honest and say that," said De La Torre, who, for the second straight season, was voted the All-Area Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Pasadena Sun, La Cañada Valley, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.

"I'm disappointed with how the season ended, but one bad race doesn't define me."

De La Torre's maturity might be his biggest accomplishment in a year filled with honors and first-place finishes.

"He got it. This year Daniel understood. He wanted all the right stuff and was not afraid to work for it," La Salle High Coach Fred Riley said. "In the past, Daniel pushed too hard and wanted so much that he went overboard. This year, he really listened to his coaches, stuck to his workout regiment and really had a great senior season."

De La Torre highlighted his versatility early by winning the 1,600 (4:25.33) at the Tri-Country Small School Invitational at Moorpark High on March 9 (well ahead of the 4:39.32 mark of runner-up Isaac Gomez of Fillmore) before clinching the 3,000 (8:52.83) and 3,200 (9:21.07) on March 15 and 16 at the Rosemead Invitational.

"In the past, I would have tried to have set a course or stadium record and would have gone all out," De La Torre said. "I might have injured myself or tired myself out. I think what the coaches did for me this year is make me understand that it's better to get ready to run your best later in the season."

Part of De La Torre's motivation for self-preservation came in February when the 18-year-old Alhambra resident signed his national letter of intent with UCLA.

"It was such a great feeling to have your effort and work rewarded," he said. "It's great to know that someone is watching and that I'm able to go to a great school like UCLA that's going to have an exciting freshman class."

As for the track, arguably De La Torre's most exciting victory came on the final day of the 46th annual Arcadia Invitational on April 6 when he lost an eight-second lead versus Garrett Migliozzi only to out-lean the Nevada Union High junior at the finish line of their heat of the boys' 1-mile, 4:18.63 to 4:18.64.

That victory was followed by a better winning time a week later in the elite small-school competition, the Russell Cup Invitational at Carpinteria High on April 13, as De La Torre captured the 1,600 in 4:18.43.

"Daniel really starting putting it together at that part of the season and wasn't pushing himself too hard," Riley said. "He was relaxed and we were excited heading to Mt. SAC."

De La Torre returned to his favorite track at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut for the 55th annual Mt. SAC Invite, the last big race before the postseason, and wasted no time in showing off his playoff readiness.

The La Salle star turned in his best effort ever in the 3,200, winning the invitational evening run on April 19 with a mark of 9:04.49.

"There's something about Mt. SAC that brings out the best in me," said De La Torre, who posted a career-best 1,600 time of 4:10.74 his junior year at Mt. SAC. "I just love running here."

De La Torre's next big race didn't take place until nearly a month later when the senior completed a dual-sport championship sweep at the Del Rey Finals at Santa Fe Dam on May 2 in winning both the 1,600 (4:16.40) and 3,200 (9:14.98) titles.

Two weeks later, De La Torre enjoyed probably his best week of the season, when, for a second straight year, he captured CIF Southern Section Division IV titles in both the 1,600 (4:16.44) and 3,200 (9:19.60) at Mt. SAC.

"You could tell Daniel was satisfied with his championships," Norris said, "but it still seemed like he wanted a little more."

Unlike last year, there was a sense of relaxation for De La Torre heading into the Masters Meet at Cerritos College.

So much so that De La Torre eased up from his second-place position in the 1,600 and calmly coasted into a ninth-place finish, which unbeknownst to him at the time, delivered a season-best time of 4:13.64.

De La Torre also advanced in the 3,200 with mark of 9:06.54, his best time since the Mt. SAC Relays more than a month earlier.

"It was really supposed to be all about advancing to state and I ended up posting a season best," De La Torre said. "It was special to do that."

The enjoyment derived from Masters success was stifled the following weekend as De La Torre fell well short of a top-six podium finish in both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter at state.

Even with the disappointment, there wasn't that same level of despair that haunted De La Torre in 2012.

No, the runner had matured.

"You can't always win. No one can. What you can do is learn from your mistakes and grow and become a better runner and person," De La Torre said. "I'm not happy with how the way things ended at La Salle, but rather than be upset, I'm going to do something about it. I'm not going to let that disappointment own me, I'm going to continue to work hard and look forward for my next chance to run."

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