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FALL PREVIEW ?LAGUNA BEACH HIGH BOYS’ CROSS-COUNTRY: State title could be in cards

The Laguna Beach boys’ cross-country program has been on a roll the past five years, and goals again are lofty for the 2008 Breakers.

Coach Dave Brobeck has built the program into a perennial top tier team, evident by successful runs that have taken the Breakers all the way to the CIF State meet.

Since making State for the first time in 2003 and claiming a 13th-place standing, Laguna teams captured a State championship in 2004, placed third in 2005, finished runner-up in 2006 and are coming off last year’s seventh-place finish in Fresno.

“The long-term goal of the program is to annually contend at the highest level, the State meet," Brobeck said.

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“Winning league, making CIF and getting to the State meet is no longer the objective. We want to be a perennial podium team [top three] at State. Twenty-five teams compete at the State meet."

With nearly its entire lineup intact from last year, the 2008 Laguna squad is focused on being at Woodward Park in Fresno in late November.

“This year’s team is highly talented and is gaining experience," Brobeck said. “Six of our seven varsity runners return from last year’s team. We feel that if we stay healthy, we have a shot at winning. Potential doesn’t mean much, though. A lot of things have to work out just perfectly."

Hard work in the summer, Brobeck hopes, will translate to success in the fall.

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Summer workouts end today.

“Our training program went extremely well this summer," he said. “The boys put in some big miles, gained a tremendous amount of strength and improved on their speed and flexibility. There is a lot of enthusiasm for our first race on September 13th."

The lone runner gone from last year’s varsity team is Yann Panassie, but it’s a substantial loss. Panassie’s senior year included earning All-Orange Coast League and All-CIF Division IV second-team honors. He also ran 4 minutes, 24 seconds in the 1,600 meters in track last spring.

Brobeck said that Panassie’s currently trying out for the men’s cross-country team at UC Berkeley.

With more than 60 runners on the program’s roster in 2008, Brobeck said that there are 15 “legitimate" varsity runners.

Here are five runners he says who head that list, with a comment on each by Brobeck:

?Matt Neev, sophomore: Neev was the Orange Coast League champion last year as a freshman. He was All-CIF Division IV third team, placed 20th at State and in track, his 4:30 mile mark was the seventh fastest among all freshmen in the state. “The most talented Laguna Beach High School runner since Eric Hulst."

?Casey Finnerty, senior: All-league and returning team captain. Ran a 4:33 mile in track. Brobeck calls him the “high-mileage king."

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?Blake Hofmeister, Jr: Earned all-league honors and ran a 4:36 mile in track. “Stronger than ever and ready to be dominant."

?Richard Mattingley, Jr: Earned all-league nod and ran a 4:46 mile in track. “Finally injury-free and ready to regain his place as the county’s best."

?Tommy Newton-Neal, Jr: Ran a 4:33 mile in track. “Building strength and ready to transfer a great spring in track into an even better fall in cross-country."

“Each of these five runners could be a No. 1 runner on almost any Division IV program in the state," Brobeck said. “My main coaching goal for this season is to get these five to the starting line at the State meet with fresh legs and motivation.

“I have always had the coaching philosophy of training through races, being patient and developing kids for the target race, the Nov. 29th State meet. This year, I am going to control this even more. Fewer races for the varsity and varsity hopefuls and perfect track speed workouts are the goals."

Laguna opens its season Sept. 6 running the Laguna Hills Invitational.

After that, the Breakers will run the Woodbridge Invitational on Sept. 13, be in Hawaii for the Iolani Invitational on Sept. 20, then run the Yucaipa Invitational Sept. 27, the Orange County Invitational on Oct. 11 and the Mount SAC Invitational on Oct. 17.

Brobeck said that he will bring 12 runners and five parents for the Thursday-Sunday (Sept. 18-21) trip to Oahu for the Iolani Invitational and will run both a varsity “A" and “B" team at the meet.

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He said that this will be the “only race" where he will run his top five athletes together until the State meet, adding that he additionally plans to rest one of his top five runners at CIF finals in mid-November.

What are two key elements Brobeck feels are instrumental for the Breakers to have more success this season?

“Health and perspective," he said.

“Every race and every practice serves a purpose for November 29th. When training is missed or compromised, the end result is less than could have been. There are only so many opportunities to really contend for a State title."

THE SCHEDULE

?Sept. 6: at Laguna Hills Invitational

?Sept. 13: at Woodbridge Invitational

?Sept. 20: at Iolani Invitational (Oahu)

?Sept. 27: Yucaipa Invitational

?Oct. 11: Orange County Invitational

?Oct. 17: Mt. SAC Invitational

?Nov. 6: Orange Coast League finals

?Nov. 15: CIF Prelims (at Mt. SAC)

?Nov. 22: CIF Finals (at Mt. SAC)

?Nov. 29: State Meet (Fresno)


MIKE SCIACCA covers sports. He can be reached at (949) 494-4321 or by e-mail at michael.sciacca@latimes.com.


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