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John, Jonny speed into history

SPT EV Invite RM 4-5-08
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ARCADIA, Calif. ” You can’t go this fast on a Los Angeles freeway.

John O’Neill and Jonny Stevens have done many staggering things in their Battle Mountain careers, but it may be awfully hard to top what they did Saturday night in California.

The seniors capped Battle Mountain’s stay at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational, one of the top meets in the country, by destroying the school’s 3,200-meter. O’Neill clocked a time of 9 minutes, 16.88 seconds with Stevens right behind him in 9:18.26.

Stevens’ old 3,200 school record, set at this meet last year, was 9:35. That would be a stunning 19 and 17 seconds faster for the mathematically-challenged.

“They’ve done phenomenal,” said Huskies coach Rob Parish, who was temporarily at a loss for words, a rare development for him. “I couldn’t have expected anything like this from any of the kids I’ve coached.”

This is from a guy who has seen Battle Mountain runners win three state championships ” two for the boys and one for the girls ” in as many years.

“It’s such a wonderful thing for them,” he continued. “Sometimes, it feels like I haven’t coached at Battle Mountain without these guys. They’ve worked so hard. This wasn’t an accident.”

True, Arcadia is at sea level, but before these two started running, Chris Isbell (Class of 1994) held the two-mile mark at 9:55.

“I was shooting for 9:20,” O’Neill said. “Before the race, I was just looking around and seeing guys you read about in magazines, future Olympians. I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to run fast.’ It was a crazy race.”

Even Stevens, who is pretty hard to surprise, was pretty impressed by their times.

“Well, we (got personal records) in cross (country), but it’s never a sure thing think that you’re going to get a P.R. by that much,” he said. “We both had a good idea that we were in good shape. I guess we got lucky getting into the invite heat.”

The Arcadia Invite is by invitation only. There is the seeded race, in which the two were originally enrolled, and the higher-level invite heat. Parish pretty much begged borrowed and stole (doubtless, in a polite manner) to get O’Neill and Stevens into the top-tier division.

“I think the race director finally put them in the invite just so I’d stop bugging him,” Parish joked.

The duo proved Parish’s confidence was justified. O’Neill finished 14th, while Stevens was 17th out of a field of 30 of the best distance runners in the nation.

This race was so steeped in talent that although the two Huskies were separated by roughly 1.5 seconds, they were three places apart. Saturday’s winning time was a stunning 8:46. That’s just 5 seconds off the national high school record in the 3,200 held by Steve Prefontaine.

“I think their times are so fast that non-runners can realize how fast John and Jonny were going,” Parish said. “I’ve coached these guys long enough to know when they’re running strong or just hanging on. They just kept coming.”

Double-take

Having been here last year, Stevens expected a rapid pace. O’Neill, in his first appearance at the California meet, was definitely feeling butterflies.

“I wasn’t nervous. I was 100-percent scared,” O’Neill said.

However fast the two thought the race was going to be, it actually turned out to be faster. Stevens initially led O’Neill until the midway point in the race when the latter moved ahead.

Parish had the mile split at 4:35, while O’Neill said he had 4:37. Either way, it was a scorching pace. O’Neill’s P.R. for just the 1,600 ” not while running half of a 3,200 ” is 4:34.

The two got through what Parish called “the danger zone,” the sixth and seventh laps, where most runners tire. And then, just as it did at the state cross-country meet, the Huskies’ high altitude training kicked in.

O’Neill and Parish went right down the stretch together.

“We kind of pushed and pulled each other,” O’Neill said. “We both got our hair cut before we came out here. I saw this guy with short hair and did a double-take. ‘Hey, that’s my teammate.'”

O’Neill and Stevens returned to Colorado Sunday, and will have to get readjusted to altitude. That having been said, Stevens followed his 9:35 at Arcadia last year with a 9:36 a few weeks later at the Tiger Invite in Grand Junction.

Not to be overlooked, teammate Tony Crisofulli broke Stevens’ mile record as well on Saturday in Arcadia. The 3,200 relay of Crisofulli, O’Neill, Stevens and Todd Walker is ahead of last year’s pace. While that quartet was in California, the likes of Conner Wallace, Jamie Lee Roberts, Aaron Wilcox and Ascher Robbins were having a great meet at Palisade.

It’s a safe bet that the Huskies are a confident bunch heading into the stretch drive.

“I think we definitely know we’re going to be able to race well in our region,” Stevens said. “For sure, we can rumble with the big boys.”

Or as O’Neill put it, “The Rifle meet (on Friday) isn’t going to be as stressful.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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