By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Lowering already impressive cross country marks is Luis Luna’s legacy in capturing another All-Empire Boys Cross Country Runner Of the Year honor.
The Piner senior logged one of the region’s greatest prep seasons ever, including the shattering the Spring Lake course record as an individual and with the Prospectors team and reaching the Footlocker National Cross Country Championships.
And he started the season behind other runners after missing two months of training with sore knees over summer.
“I worked really hard to get in top shape,” Luna said. “But I didn’t expect to make nationals. So the season lasted a lot longer. A few more weeks were a lot of fun.”
What made Luna’s season such a fitting capstone on his prep career — two Empire runner of the year awards — was his continued improvement. His passion for running never waned even when dealt setbacks at the section and state meets that for most runners would still be considered great finishes.
“The thing that makes Luis unique is he has continued to get better every year,” said Piner coach Luis Rosales. “That’s really hard to do. He’s just mentally tough.”
The season did not start promisingly.
Working a summer job picking vegetables and packing produce boxes, Luna developed sore knees and had tired legs the few times he did run.
Still, the work was a good experience, giving Luna a sense of independence in addition to an income.
Determined to be in better shape by the first fall meets, Luna went through physical therapy sessions and learned how to care for his body and avoid injury.
“That was all him,” Rosales said. “He had some doubts. It was hard work.”
The payoff came early. Luna led the Piner boys to the title at the Roughrider meet run on the state meet course in Fresno.
“I just basically did whatever it took to win,” Luna said.
An even greater highlight was shattering the Spring Lake course record at the North Bay League championships. Luna led Piner to break the all-time team mark on the famed course.
“Every year I got closer and closer. I wanted it really bad. I made it happen,” Luna said. “But cross country is a team sport, so definitely the team was a bigger priority.”
Piner’s success mattered more to Luna than finishing second in the North Coast Section Division 3 finals and fifth at the
California Interscholastic Federation Division Three meet. Those finishes fell short of Luna’s goals, yet the team’s success was very satisfying.
“My biggest goal was to break the NBL record for Spring Lake and the team to make top three in state. It happened, so I was pretty happy with that,” Luna said.
Recharged following the state meet, Luna’s best races were still ahead.
Running back of the pack and closing strong throughout the season, Luna’s strategy finally paid off when he captured seventh at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships West Regional. Luna earned a spot on the West team for the prep national championships, where he was 30th at the end.
Next on Luna’s list of goals is becoming the first member of his family to attend college. Running could get him there.
“Without running, I wouldn’t have a chance at a four-year college,” he said. “Running has definitely changed my life. It’s taught me the value of working hard.”
2011 ALL-EMPIRE BOYS CROSS COUNTRY
RUNNER OF THE YEAR
Luis Luna, Piner, senior
Joe Carrillo, Cloverdale, senior
Alex Conner, Sonoma, senior
Paul Holden, Ukiah, junior
Efren Reyes, Piner, sophomore
Jaime Silva, Piner, junio
Alexi Taylor, Cardinal Newman, senior
Ryan Douglas, Petaluma, junio
Harrison Luft, Maria Carrillo, junior
Zekaryas Mebrahtu, Piner, senior
Colin Metcalfe, Maria Carrillo, sophomore
Kevin Poteracke, Petaluma, junior
Jason Saler, Piner, senior
Michael Tomasi, Santa Rosa, senior
Christian Friday, Montgomery, sophomore
Jose Mendoza, Montgomery, senior
Jack Bowlby, Cardinal Newman, junior
Jordan Guerrero, Santa Rosa, senior
Matt Mulligan, Piner, junior
Epi Nunez, Piner, senior
Jax Reiff, Sonoma Academy, junior
COACH OF YEAR
John Litzenburg, Sonoma