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Pacesetter: GV sophomore raised the bar for girls cross country

Theresa Mallory's legs carried her from start to finish this season, but her talks with coach Al Garcia, well...

Those carried the Golden Valley sophomore straight into the records books.

Mallory made school history this season, becoming the first girls cross country runner to capture a Central California Conference championship.

"Throughout the season, I told her that I expected her to win league -- and she did," Garcia said.

"We've never had a league champion before, so this was a first for us.

"She's not only the first, but she can be the first, second and third with the way she's running.

"We're pretty excited about that."

For her efforts this fall -- and the bundle of medals she won along the way -- Mallory is the Sun-Star's Girls Runner of the Year.

Mallory was an easy choice for the award.

Hobbled by injuries as a freshman in 2007, Mallory medaled in every invitational and meet she entered this season.

She pulled away from the pack at the CCC championships in Atwater, beating Buhach Colony's Emily Cortez to the finish line by eight seconds.

She finished 17th at Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section meet at Frogtown in Angels Camp, and then 17th at sections at Willow Hills Course in Folsom -- three places shy of CIF State Meet berth.

"I was trying to go to state, too," said Mallory, who ran at sections despite a flu. "I'm not pleased, but I'm just a sophomore."

Mallory's season may have ended one step shy of the CIF State Meet, but the foundation is set for a brilliant finish to her prep career.

She was one of just four sophomore to place in the top 18 at sections.

"She's got great promise," Atwater coach Ken Rhoades said. "It's pretty easy to predict that she could be a state meet runner in the next two years or so.

"She's certainly the runner that everyone will be chasing."

While the talent is undeniable, Mallory's success this season was actually born indoors.

Garcia would meet with each of his runners on the eve and day after a race.

There, in his classroom, Garcia would review past performances and times, as well as hash out new goals.

"I'd sit down and talk with all my runners, and we'd talk about performances and where we expected them to finish," Garcia said.

"Everyone met or exceeded my expectations this season -- and I had 32 runners on my team."

But only one turned up for a Monday meeting after the season had ended.

It was Mallory, surprising her coach with her offseason ambitions and 2009 plans.

"Theresa's mentally tough," Garcia said. "Her intensity and focus is unlike any other runner we have on our team.

"The first question she had for me was: What can I do to get better? I was really happy to hear that she was concerned about next season."

Mallory credits most of her success to Garcia and their conversations.

"Just the way he talks to us, you can tell he spends a lot of time thinking about us and the sport," Mallory said. "He puts a lot of effort into it.

"The fact that he talks with us and gives us goals helped a lot."

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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