FEATURE Micah Sanchez Eyes D-V Challenge at CIF-State XC

* * *


SAN DIEGO -- Although Liberty Charter senior cross country standout Micah Sanchez watched from behind, he learned a lot last season running in the San Diego Section.

Up front were CIF-State Division V champion Kenan Pala from Francis Parker, and the Santa Fe Christian duo of Mark Trammell and Alex Bobowski, who placed third and fourth, respectively, in Fresno.

Almost an afterthought, Sanchez made the victory stand with his ninth place finish.

Looking at those results now paints an entirely different picture heading into Saturday's CIF-State Championships over the 5,000-meter course at Woodward Park.

Not only have those three runners moved on to college, every one of the top six finishers is gone. Look carefully how close the runners in places seven through nine were in last year's State Finals results: 

It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that just seven-tenths of a second separated the three top returnees.

So, let's take a look at how they did in their section meets.

Sanchez actually got a bit of a push over the Morley Field 2.96-mile course by Francis Parker's York Bourgeois, but he powered his way to a fine PR of 15:08.6, topping Bourgeois's 15:16.3.

In the Southern Section, Turk and Chapelle went head-to-head at Mt. SAC with Turk impressively winning in 15:14.6 over the hilly 3-mile course. Chapelle was next at 15:36.3.

Now the trio will be favored on the Woodward Park course that has a lot fewer hills than either Mt. SAC or Morley Field but also has few flat spots.

Sanchez has already accomplished two of his goals: Winning the San Diego Section title, and leading his team into the State Championships by capturing the SDS Division 5 crown -- both firsts for the school of 300 located at a former elementary school in Alpine, in the foothills east of San Diego.

"It was positive," said Sanchez of his battles with three of the best small school runners in the CA. "They were elite level athletes but staying up there with them seemed normal. I remember thinking, 'that's where I should be, those three guys run fast. I can run that fast, if not faster.'"

"That was really great, but I suffered an injury and didn't really have the track season I wanted. Then we got the team together for runs during the summer to get ready for this season. It will be so much better to run State as a team."

About track.

Sanchez actually performed way above expectations. In the San DIego Section 1600-meter finals, he only lost to San Marcos' Levi Taylor, who won at 4:11.07 as Sanchez qualified for the State Meet -- the first runner from his school to do so -- in 4:16.80.

He soaked up everything he could in Clovis, running a non-qualifying 4:20.75, which wasn't bad since his best event was still the 3200.

Sanchez' chances of facing either Turk or Chapelle at the Mt. SAC Invitational in early October was snuffed out by illness. His most impressive invitational victory came at the Southern California Invitational where he went head-to-head with front-running Omar Reyes of El Camino and Bourgeois.

"That race was very challenging," said Sanchez, who won at 15:16.9. "With a half-mile to go, on the final downhill, I made a move and pulled away from Omar."

Reyes, who had beaten Sanchez earlier and was dominant at Mt. SAC, was well back at 15:32.0 and Bourgeois was even farther behind at 15:44.7.

Sanchez says he can hardly wait to step back on the Woodward Park course.

"I love the State Meet course," he said. "It was so much fun for me and you have to love the atmosphere. There is so much noise and people cheering for you.  It's very special."

As for training around Alpine, which is at 2,200 feet, Sanchez says it's a big advantage that even just running in the foothills around the town there are no flat areas.

He has an added advantage that his dad, Daniel, is the coach and has been with the school all 13 years along with his wife, Tammy, the former Tammy Kniffing who, along with Daniel, graduated from El Capitan High in Lakeside before running in college.

Tammy is a Spanish teacher at Liberty Charter, making it a family affair.

"I know every teacher and student," said Sanchez. "We have an average teacher ratio of 15 to 1 and I like the atmosphere."

So much so, he's hoping either his 4.5 weighted GPA or a strong finish to the season, might land him a scholarship to Northern Arizona University where he attended a camp this summer and is located at altitude in the White Mountains surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona.

His father/coach says the reason for Micah's success is he has done all of the small things to become better.

"He's disciplined, he eats a plant-based diet during the season, he stretches, sleeps right, strength trains and recovers properly after every run," said the dad. "He's not afraid to race the best and loves those big moments. At the SoCal Invitational he ran a perfect race, taking off with a half-mile to go."

Sanchez the runner is looking for the same kind of race Saturday, aware that of the three favorites, he is probably No. 3.

"Rankings are just on paper," said Sanchez, "but I want to end up on the ground after the finish line knowing I've done my best."


 Steve Brand is a freelance writer and regular contributor to MileSplit

Photos by Patrick Corsinita, Phil Grooms, and James Huenink