Going the Distance: Fernandez tops cross-country field

Browning named all-district girl runner of year

12/29/2007 3:44 AM

10/20/2014 10:13 AM

German Fernandez went through grueling summer workouts with one thing in mind: the high school cross country postseason.

The Riverbank High senior never stopped running, setting records at most of the Central Valley's established courses, winning a state title and placing third in the national championships.

He was an easy choice as The Bee's 2007 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

While Fernandez clearly was the elite boys runner, the race to be the Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year was a crowded one featuring three candidates.

Merced's Sable Browning, Beyer's Crystal Esparza and Bret Harte's Katie O'Connor had credentials to put them in contention, but it was Browning's late-season surge that earned the honor.

Fernandez, meanwhile, surged to all sorts of victories in 2007.

He won every prestigious Northern California invitational and headed into the postseason with considerable momentum.

Fernandez set course records at Frogtown in Angels Camp and the Willow Hills course in Folsom while winning Sac-Joaquin sub-section and section titles.

At the CIF State Championships, Fernandez broke by 14 seconds the course record held by former Olympian Marc Davis and won his second Division IV state title in three years. His season continued to San Diego's Balboa Park, where he placed third in the Foot Locker National Championships.

It was a season no other Stanislaus District runner has had.

"I was bummed that I didn't win at nationals. That was a big goal," he said. "But looking back, it was just a great season. I'm really happy with my year."

Fernandez is setting up official visits to NCAA Division I schools while preparing for the Junior Olympics in February in San Diego.

He knows he'll visit Iona, Arizona State, Oregon and Oklahoma State. His fifth official visit most likely will be with running power Northern Arizona University.

"They all have my major (criminal justice or nursing)," Fernandez said. "I'm looking at running schools that have a history of developing Olympians and national champions. I want to see how far I can go, how fast I can run."

His next event is the Junior Olympics, where he'll compete in the 8-kilometer (5 miles) race. It's a college-level distance.

"I want to see where I'm at for those longer distances," Fernandez said. "I feel I'm better at the longer races."

In 2007, he was good at almost any distance.

Browning: It's all about head and heart

Browning finished fourth in the Division I section final, covering the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 27 seconds. The senior sliced 27 seconds off her time at the State Meet, finishing 56th overall and fifth among Sac-Joaquin Section runners.

"Sable's running is much more about her head and her heart than her physical gifts," coach Mark Abajuela said. "If I tell her to push it, she will -- even if she doesn't think she can. That's just the kind of kid she is."

Browning was part of a remarkably fast race at the State Meet: Her time of 19 minutes would have put her 30th the previous year.

It was Browning's early-season work that led to her strong performances in the final weeks.

She began the season training with freshman Francisco Ruiz, and the pair pushed each other to run faster and longer.

"Franky is the best boy runner we have right now, so I had the two of them lead the pack at practice," Abajuela said. "He might be a little faster than her, so it was a good way to challenge her."

The strategy paid off.

"Sable is the kind of athlete that most coaches would want to have," Abejuela said. "She's highly coachable ... a sponge. Everything I tell her she regurgitates back to me, which lets me know that not only is she listening, but she wants to learn."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada and the Merced

Sun-Star's Sean Lynch contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at wdeboard@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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