With illness well behind him, Anthony Grover eyes history

Anthony Grover cruised to his second Southern Section Division 4 title in three years and now heads to the State Meet looking for a rare third consecutive division title. (Credit: Raymond Tran)

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Check out a Workout Wednesday video with Anthony Grover

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CALIFORNIA -- This Saturday, JSerra High senior Anthony Grover could become just the fourth boy in the history of the CIF-State Cross Country Championships to win three division titles.

Amazing in itself and even more so considering Grover's struggles at the end of his junior season. 

A year ago, Grover was preparing for the CIF-State Cross Country Finals as the defending champion in Division IV, yet coming off a disappointing finish at the Southern Section Finals. 

He had been unable to defend his 2017 CIF-SS title despite a solid lead that evaporated quickly in the home stretch as he began to labor and staggered awkwardly across the line in fourth place. 

A week later, Grover went to the State Championships in Fresno and won a second consecutive title. A week after that he ran fourth over the hilly course at Mt. SAC to qualify for the Foot Locker National Finals in San Diego.

One bad race, two good races. One more to go. 

But on the course at Morley Field at FLN, that late-race fatigue overwhelmed him once again. He went down in the grass on the verge of the home stretch, somehow found his way to get up and trudge toward the finish where he was the 40th and final boy across the line before collapsing again.

"I had two bad races ... where I just wasn't able to overcome the sickness," Grover said earlier this month. "I was just at my redline and wasn't able to get past it. 

"To repeat (as State champion), it was pretty rewarding. I was really sick. I had mono. To be able to come out and perform well despite being really sick, I was really happy with that. And this year, going into it, I feel really confident I'll be able to get the win."

As redemption stories go, Anthony Grover's is still in progress. A post-Foot Locker Nationals blood test revealed a virus that had caused what JSerra coach Marry Dugard called chronic fatigue and it made for a  difficult ending to a junior season in cross that required rest and a slow rollout to the spring season. 

"He'd been running with that throughout the whole season," Dugard said during a post-practice interview earlier this month. "He fixed it. Everything is good now. We were very hand's off the first two, three months of track season. He rebounded nicely and he's using the momentum from the end of track season to come into this season."

On the oval last spring, Grover ran a couple of races in March but he really didn't get rolling until April and by May he was pushing himself to the max, running 800m, 1600m and 3200m in the same meets. He would PR at each distance.

"He basically raced his way into shape because it was his idea to start doing triples," Dugard said. "He did that (8-16-32) five meets in a row. Not five dual meets but five championship meets. It was pretty cool to watch. I kind of wanted to close my eyes sometimes but it was pretty cool to watch."

Grover ran the triple through the Southern Section Division Finals (placing second in the 8 and third in the other two). At Masters, he ran the 800 and 1600, qualifying for State in the 1600. At State, Grover was the final qualifier out of prelims but then cranked out a 4:10.60 PR to earn a fourth-place medal.  

Fast-Forward to 2019

Today Anthony Grover is preparing for the CIF-State Cross Country Finals as a two-time champion in Division IV, while coming off a controlled performance for a second Southern Section D4 title in three years.

Grover, who earlier this month signed to run at Wake Forest University, has had a stellar senior cross country season. He placed fifth in a group of some of the fastest boys in the country at the Clovis Invitational on the State Meet course in early October, running a 5K PR despite not training for the type of first-mile speed the likes of Nico Young, Leo Daschbach and Matt Strangio put down. A couple of weeks after that at the Mt. SAC Invitational, Grover went stride-for-stride with Daschbach, the Arizona champion, until the final 200 meters, placing second. 

Of the seven races Grover has taken the line for this fall, those are the only two where he did not place first.

"He refuses to think of himself anything other than the winner," Dugard said. "He's presumptuous about the fact that he's the best guy out there at any time. He will fight to the bitter end. He will do whatever workout I want. He's very gutsy. He's easy to coach. He's a solid guy."

The combination of that level of confidence and the painful memory of how 2018 ended has Grover discussing a rather lofty goal. 

"I definitely want to be the Foot Locker National Champion," he said. "I've been putting in the work, following my coach's plans, and if all stays according to plan, I think that's going to happen."

First Things First

The Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego are three races and a flip of the calendar into the future. First up is Saturday in Fresno where Grover looks to run into history as just the fourth boy to win three division titles since the addition of the State Championships for cross country in 1987.

Bryan Dameworth of Agoura was the first to do it, winning Division I in 1987-88-89. Tim Wilson of Redding Liberty Christian won Division V in 2000-01-02. Most recently, Elias Gedyon of Los Angeles Loyola won the D-II title in 2008-09-10. 

In winning in 2017 and '18, Grover joined seven others to win two titles in Division IV. 

This season, there is nothing on anyone's resume that indicates Grover will see much of a challenge to his three-peat. 

Grover's 15:09.50 from the Clovis Invitational is the fastest 5K run this season by a California boy in Division IV. The next closest is Amir Barkan, a senior from Sir Francis Drake (NC), who went 15:23.40 at Clovis. Third in the D-IV rankings for 5K is Oliver Pick, a junior at Foothill Technology (SS), who went 15:37.30, also at Clovis.

Grover's time for fifth place at that meet -- where the top three all clocked under the previous meet record -- is a 5K PR, it's 8.30 seconds faster than he ran for fifth place at Clovis as a junior, and 12.30 seconds faster than he ran that same Woodward Park course at last November's State Final.

Not bad considering he hadn't trained for that type of speed off the line.

"Clovis went the way I thought Clovis was going to go," Dugard said. "We hadn't really done anything that would prepare him for a real high-end opening mile. He went out at 4:32. He hadn't run a 4:32 mile in four months. He hadn't done anything close to that in training. "

"I don't think I prepared as well as I could have for that race," Grover said. "So I really took the time to prepare for Mt. SAC and that really helped to getting second."

On a warm October day at Mt. SAC, Grover was right there with Daschbach as they charged down Reservoir Hill and hit the hairpin turn toward the Airstrip finish. 

"The last mile, Leo wasn't pushing the pace, he was sitting on me," Grover said. "I was just doing my best to be as comfortable as I can knowing he has a very strong kick. ... I was pretty bummed to know he got away from me toward he last 200 meters."

While the training between Clovis and Mt. SAC ramped up, Dugard had yet to install the full playbook. 

"We had done a little more of that top-end stuff," he said. "So (Grover) was able to not just run with Leo but run the downhills with authority. I wasn't surprised he got out-kicked because we hadn't been working on the kick yet. We'd been doing other faster intervals but not that next-gear thing.

"My coaching philosophy is that I like to hold that for late November-December racing and we're just kind of getting there now. Knock on wood. I think he's doing all the right stuff and it's coming together at the right time."

Last Saturday on the flat, warm and dusty Riverside City Course, a 3-mile layout, Grover looked smooth and relaxed in running 14:53.90 to win a second Southern Section Division 4 title in preparation for this week's trip to Fresno where he will take the line on the Woodward Park 5K course for the seventh time -- fourth time at State (he placed fifth in the D-IV Final as a freshman), and three times at the Clovis Invitational.

"I know that course really well," Grover said. "I have no doubt that wherever I feel I should make my move, I'll make it, and I won't look back, and get the win."

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Photos by Jeffrey Parenti and Raymond Tran.