Wrong turn can't stop Sonoma's Conner

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

What do you get for the runner who has everything, including aspirations of winning the Sonoma County League cross country title this year? How about a GPS?

That’s about the only thing that could have made Alex Conner’s afternoon better. The Sonoma Valley senior made a wrong turn on the 3.05-mile figure 8 at Spring Lake on Wednesday, but recovered to score an easy victory in the Super Septo meet, setting a new school record for that course in the process. Conner crossed in 15:47, 24 seconds ahead of Santa Rosa’s Michael Tomasi.

Sonoma Academy sophomore Katy Lee was even more dominant in the girls’ competition, winning by nearly a full minute.

Conner, who ranked 11th in the SCL a year ago, motored up the first hill with a sizable lead and promptly made a wrong turn on the dirt trail, veering left instead of right. He might still be running were it not for Montgomery’s Jose Mendoza, who called out,

“Hey, wrong way.” Conner figured he lost 10 seconds to Mendoza, Tomasi and another Santa Rosa runner, Jordan Guerrero, but he overtook them quickly after finding his way.

“They don’t chalk it, they just put a couple cones out,” Sonoma coach John Litzenberg said of the woodsy course.
“There weren’t even cones there,” Conner corrected.

“Well, we’re hosting the SCL finals here, so we’ll make sure we know the area really well,” Litzenberg added.

It was an impressive race for Conner, who hopes to compete with Petaluma runners Ryan Douglas and Kevin Poteracke for league honors this fall. He missed a trip to the state cross country meet by two places in 2010, but says he has become a better runner since Litzenberg convinced him to give up golf in favor of track last spring.

The ploy had mixed results for Litzenberg. Yes, he got a faster cross country athlete in the bargain, but he also saw his school record in the 3200 meters fall to Conner. Last week, Conner broke Litzenberg’s 15-year stranglehold on the Sonoma Valley Alumni Meet title.

Mendoza finished third in the Super Septo boys’ race at 16:42, with Guerrero fourth at 16:49 and Santa Rosa’s Michael Kennedy fifth at 16:51.

Lee finished seventh at the state meet in Division V last year, and might be even stronger this year after a summer cross-training program that included swimming three mornings a week for 30 minutes each.

Her Sonoma Academy coach, Danny Aldridge, has been encouraging Lee to go for negative splits — getting faster as the race goes on. Wednesday, she ran the first mile in 6:20, the second in 6:10 and the third in 6:00 even, for a total of 18:30.

“I’ve been really trying to get down to six minutes for each mile, which I’ve been getting closer to,” Lee said. “This is the first time I’ve been training really hard over the summer. I’m sort of nursing a small injury, but I decided not to worry about it.”

Lee had some fast girls pursuing her, but none of them came close. Behind her were Windsor’s Victoria Tomaszewski (19:29),

Santa Rosa’s Eva Herbst (19:49), Windsor’s Amber Peirsol (19:58) and Santa Rosa’s Sadia Ibrahim (19:58). Ibrahim barely caught Peirsol in a fierce fight to the finish line.

Ibrahim dominated the Redwood Empire in the 400- and 800-meter events last spring. Now Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche is trying to get her to think more like a cross country athlete in the fall, running longer practice distances and pacing faster on her easy days. He thinks it will pay off in both cross country and track.

Rancho Cotate, Analy and Elsie Allen also participated in the Super Septo.

Team point totals were not kept in the interlock meet, but Santa Rosa had five boys and three girls finish in their respective top 10s, and Sonoma Academy had the Nos. 8-9-10 boys to go along with Lee’s win.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.