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Bethke is a True Team Player


Bethke Is a True Team Player

December 30, 2004|Dan Arritt, Times Staff Writer

Portraying cross-country as a team sport can be an uphill task when individuals typically steal the show. But campaigners for the idea may have discovered a poster boy in Brandon Bethke of Lake Forest El Toro.

Bethke produced the region's best results last season, including a school record at the Irvine Woodbridge Invitational, a course record at the Orange County Championships at Irvine Regional Park and a near course record at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational in Walnut.

He capped the high school season by winning a Division I state title on a cold and rainy day at Woodward Park in Fresno, a result that cemented his status as The Times boys' cross-country runner of the year.

Most of the elite runners then returned to Mt. SAC the following weekend for the Foot Locker West Regional championships, which brings together the top individuals on the West Coast. Bethke instead traveled to Portland, Ore., to fulfill a promise he made to his teammates in late August at a training camp near Mammoth Lakes. He told them that if the Chargers qualified for the Nike national team championships, he would stick with them.

His teammates thought he was joking. El Toro was expected to be strong, but not that strong. A spot at the national team championships would take at least a third-place finish at the state finals.

Even the night before the state championships, the Chargers had their doubts.

"Brandon said to go out and run the best race we could," junior Nate Mouzis said. "When the scores came in and we were third, it was probably the happiest I've ever been."

Bethke said he would remember that moment as the highlight of his season.

"That's what the sport is all about," said Bethke, who signed with Wisconsin, the NCAA runner-up the last three years.

Bethke's attitude toward team play can be traced to his childhood, when he alternated among soccer, basketball and baseball. He wanted to get in shape for the winter soccer season, so he tried out for cross-country during the fall of his freshman year and discovered a hidden talent.

He began to focus solely on cross-country and track during his sophomore year. At the Woodbridge Invitational his junior season, he had a 94-second improvement over the year before.

He went on to win the Southern Section Division I title and finish third in state. He also finished second in the 1,600 meters at the state track and field championships in June.

Bethke began this season as a favorite to defend his section title and win his first state championship. He lowered his school record by eight seconds at the Woodbridge Invitational, covering the three-mile trip in 14 minutes 22 seconds. After defending his Orange County title, he came within two seconds of the course record at Mt. SAC.

He didn't perform as well while finishing third at the Division I final at Mt. SAC, complaining of a slow early pace, but erased any doubts a week later by winning the state title in 15:06, the fastest time of the day on the 3.1-mile course.Although there was no question about Bethke's result, he nervously waited with his teammates for the team scores to be tallied. When they were officially posted about 10 minutes later, cheers erupted from El Toro's gathering.

"I told the guys in August, that if everybody ran hard and worked their butts off, I would never deny them a chance to go to the national championships," Bethke said.

The Chargers competed in Portland as the Beach Dudes Cross-Country Club, and Bethke finished second out of 146 runners. His result qualified him for the Foot Locker individual national championships at Balboa Park in San Diego, where he finished 11th.


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Times' All-Star Boys'

Cross-Country Team*--* FIRST TEAM Brandon Bethke El Toro Sr. Won the Division I state title in 15:06, the fastest time of the meet, and finished first in sweepstakes race at Mt. San Antonio Invitational. Dylan Jaedtke Royal Sr. Led Highlanders to Division I state title with seventh-place finish, one week after leading team to section title by finishing 13th. Alfred Gonzales Don Lugo Jr. Team's most consistent runner down the stretch, finishing fourth at Southern Section Division I final (15:04) and eighth in state (15:38). Mark Matusak Loyola Sr. Ran fastest time of meet while defending Southern Section Division II title and also won state, leading the Cubs to team titles. Diego Mercado West Covina Jr. Came on strong late in season to post fastest time at Division I preliminaries, finish second in final and third in state. Patrick Milloy Murrieta Valley Jr. Placed fifth at the Division I state final (15:30) and seventh at the section championships (15:12). Fitsum Tesfa Don Lugo Sr. Won the Southern Section Division I title and the Division I boys' race at the Stanford Invitational in 15:10. Coach of the Year: Lalo Diaz, Loyola Down two runners at the Division II state final because of injury and illness, Diaz motivated his team to a championship finish. SECOND TEAM Brett Campfield Temecula Valley Sr. Joe Gatel Edison Sr. Colin Hacker Lompoc Cabrillo Jr. Nick Mosey Servite Sr. Ted Price Camarillo Jr. Randy Skillens St. John Bosco Sr. Adam Sidoti La Sierra Sr.