Remembering 1987: Arroyo Boys Are Nearly Perfect

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This is part of a series of articles looking back at the 1987 CIF-State Cross Country Championships, the first in California.

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The very first California State Cross Country Championships created a buzz around the sport that it had never experienced.  Bringing together the state's best squads and individuals together in a three-divisional format for each gender at one of the most iconic courses in the nation in Fresno, Woodward Park.  Schools that others had always heard and wondered about were now all being introduced on the starting line to add to the electric atmosphere despite early temperatures that hovered in the 40's most of the morning.

The first race to kick off the day the Division I boys. The nation's top-ranked team, Arroyo out of El Monte, was coming off a solid victory over Upland at the Southern Section 'AAA' divisional championships. With the Southern Section fielding four divisions and the State Championships only offering three divisions, there was some reshuffling for those Southern Section squads that qualified. Also noteworthy was a two-week break between the two championship meets, allowing qualifiers the luxury to rest.

With that, top-ranked Arroyo was placed into the Division I race, facing off against Dana Hills, the 'AAAA' champs who had pulled off an upset two weeks earlier over nationally-ranked Palos Verdes.  Joining the battle for the podium was also the four-time Central Coast Section champions, Bellarmine Prep out of San Jose.

Now serving as one of the best public announcers in the nation and meet director of the Mt. SAC Invite and Relays, Tim O'Rourke was the head coach of that Arroyo squad.  The team featured four talents that consistently alternated throughout the season in scoring.  Coming into 1987 slated as one of the best in the nation after their 1986 CIF-SS AA division team title, O'Rourke shared how their season-long benchmark workouts were geared toward the Woodward Park course and that first State Meet.  

The day of the State Meet, the plan was for the group to collectively move to the front third of the pack over the first 800 meters while being able to run the first 1800 meters of the course with comfort.  Once away from the main crowds, they took control on the upper backside of the Woodward Park course.  The strategy was to race to the top of 'Monster Hill' and continue attacking to the two-mile mark.  The goal was to let their aerobic strength maintain their places but O'Rourke noted on how they actually moved up over that last mile.

'Perfection' was how O'Rourke, now the public address announcer of the State Meet, described his teams racing tactics on that day.

Jaime Ortega was first to cross for the Knights with a 15:23, fourth-place finish, but followed closely by Jeff Gilkey in 15:29 and Derrick Powers at 15:31 for sixth and 10th place finishes, respectively.  Gerardo Puentes came across in 20th place (15:54), finishing well ahead of any of their main competitors' third scorer. Closing the deal was Mike Deitch, who put together his best race of the season with a 16:04, 37th place finish. O'Rourke (pictured above) shared how Deitch would only train with that group half the year because in the spring, he went on to become one of California's top pole vaulters, along with earning a division title in the event.

This senior-driven group was all local products with no prior running experience before high school.  Training together since their freshman year this group put together their best race when it counted most.  On paper, the matchup had Arroyo as slight favorites but Arroyo left no doubt with a commanding 41-115 state title.  Their 78:23 team time shattered the previous course record of 79:07, averaging almost nine-seconds faster per boy than the old record.  That team-time record held for six seasons until 1993 (Thousand Oaks) and was still one of the top 10 team performances ever for the Woodward Park up until the onslaught of talent these past 10 seasons!

In that Division I Boys race was a young freshman, Louis Quintana of Arroyo Grande. With his seventh-place finish, this was the first of four trips to the podium at the California State Meet, where he is the only boy in Division I history to achieve that feat to this day!

Now the head coach at Oregon State University, Quintana, stopped by to share his thoughts.  Upon finding out that there would the first State Meet, his coach, Gary DeNike, immediately placed the Clovis Invitational on their schedule so his program could compete on the Woodward Park course in October.  But, Quintana admits that the main headliners that season were the Arroyo Grande girls' team. Soon enough, he created his own.

"I remember getting ready to compete the morning of the State championships that November extremely calm and relaxed. For whatever reason, it seemed like a bonus race for me as I wasn't expecting qualifying out of the tough Southern Section for the championships.  My strategy was to simply stay close to the top 10 and if things go well, dip into the top 10 and run faster than I did at the Clovis Invite (15:55).  I simply put my head down and ran hard.  I finished 7th and ran 15:30 which was one of the top times ever run by a freshman on that course at the time." 

Quintana claimed the individual State Title in 1990 with one of the best performances in State Meet history, crossing in 14:47 for a 17-second victory before making his way to claim the national title in the Kinney (now Foot Locker) Championships. After being a nine-time All-American for Villanova, he has since moved onto a very successful collegiate coaching career.  But his legacy all started with that first State Championship Meet!  

In that Division I boys race, runner-up Dana Hills went in ranked 17th in the nation for 1987.  While disappointing with a fifth-place finish at the State Meet, Palos Verdes' strong showing throughout the nation had the Sea Kings at 13th. A tightly-packed Bellarmine group earned enough respect with their third-place finish moving up to 19th in the nation.

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Share your memories of the 1987 State Meet

Were you an athlete, coach, organizer who took part in the first CIF-State Cross Country Championships in 1987? We'd love to share your memories of that meet and that experience. Feel free to email