TURLOCK -- Dawson Vorderbruegge and Marina Ghabbour came to Cal State Stanislaus for the same reasons to get an education and to make huge strides in both cross-country and track.
Both were confident Stanislaus had an athletic and academic support staff in place to help them achieve their goals, but they had no idea their cross-country head coach also dabbles in life-coaching.
That would be Diljeet Taylor, the former indoor and outdoor track All-American for the Warriors, who has guided both the men's and women's cross-country teams since 2007.
Three years ago, Taylor noticed a slight romantic spark between the two young athletes, and also noticed both probably were too polite, shy and focused on their time-consuming roles as student-athletes to pursue a relationship.
So Taylor decided to expedite the courtship.
"We were interested in each other for about a year before we started dating," Vorderbruegge said. "I was a little nervous.
"Coach Taylor texted Marina and I and said there was a team breakfast meeting at the dorm cafeteria and everybody needed to be there at 10 o'clock. We both showed up and were the only ones there. I guess that was our first date."
Sneaky? You bet.
"They had similar values and personalities and I saw that," Taylor said. "I just encouraged it a little bit.
"We had some recruits that were supposed to be coming on campus, and the team was supposed to gather to meet the recruits. The recruits had car trouble and couldn't make it, so I had the idea to cancel the team meeting for everybody but those two. It was cute."
The relationship blossomed for both, along with their running careers, and on Aug. 25 they became engaged to be married, setting a tentative date of June 1, 2013.
That's the Saturday following the Division II Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, in which both Vorderbruegge and Ghabbour both plan on competing.
Vorderbruegge, who earned his degree in English and is a graduate student at Stanislaus, is the top runner on the Warrior men's cross-country team and earned All-American status last spring by finishing eighth in the 1,500 meters (4:16.62) at the national meet.
He graduated last spring with a 3.937 GPA and was honored with the Elite 89 award, which the NCAA awards to the top student at each of the 89 national championship events across its sports spectrum.
The Honolulu resident comes from an athletic background. His father, Darren Vorderbruegge, was a track All-American at Bethany College and is the head basketball coach at Hawaii Pacific University.
"I wanted to come to a place where I could train year-round without having to go inside, so that limited my options considerably," said Vorderbruegge, who said he couldn't stay in Hawaii since none of the colleges in his home state have men's track teams.
"I e-mailed all the coaches at the schools in California, Arizona and Florida and coach Taylor was the only one who showed interest."
Ghabbour, a junior from Oceanside, continues to write and improve her athletic résumé. She finished 15th in last year's California Collegiate Athletic Association cross-country championship to earn all-conference honors, and already this season has earned a CCAA runner of the week nod.
"There were a few Division III schools interested in me, but I couldn't afford to go," Ghabbour said.
"I filled out a questionnaire to Stanislaus because I knew they had a good criminal justice program, and that's what I wanted to study. Coach Taylor called me the next day and she seemed interested. I came on a visit and I enjoyed the small town and the small school."
The criminal justice major was an alternate for last spring's NCAA meet at 1,500 meters, and believes she's on target to reach the nationals in 2013, despite having to mix training and academics with planning a wedding.
"I make a lot of lists," Ghabbour said. "I set times for doing certain assignments and make sure that between classes I have time to get lunch or rest. I try not to make myself super-busy because I want to be an elite athlete. I need to have time for school and running and I have to put my energy into both equally."
Vorderbruegge will be facing the same demands on his time, but vows to not waver from his strict list of priorities.
"I try to do three things really well and nothing else," Vorderbruegge said. "I try to do school well, run well and pursue God well, and that will take up all your time with not much left over."
But Vorderbruegge did have time to plan the moment he asked Ghabbour to be his wife. First, he called her parents to ask permission.
"We had a race that day and then I told Marina I was taking her out to dinner," Vorderbruegge said. "We went to Vito's and walked over to a park. I played her a song on the guitar and then dropped to one knee. I kept it traditional."
She had to know something was up, since at the park his guitar just happened to be waiting, atop a blanket that just happened to be spread out, covering a case that contained an engagement ring.
Yes, someone might have been helping out, just to make sure the moment came off as planned.
"I was doing my best to hide behind a tree," Taylor said. "Hey, there was a ring out there. Someone had to be guarding it."