October 31, 2008

Hilltop’s Valenzuela Better than Ever

By John Philip Wyllie

After winning the South Bay League cross country title six years in a row the Hilltop Lancers joined the Mesa League this season. While it will be difficult for them to win that title outright after suffering their first league loss in six years, one of their runners appears destined to take the individual title.

Hilltop senior Tanya Valenzuela has rebounded from her injury-plagued junior year and established herself at the top of the Mesa League ladder. She discovered long distance running at an early age. It appears that it will now take her places.

“When she was younger my mom used to run in T.J. She gave me a lot of encouragement when I was smaller. My dad has always been athletic too. He played basketball,” Valenzuela said.

Hilltop's Tanya Valenzuela has never been beaten in league competition. Photo J.P. Wyllie

They had her competing on weekends from the age of 12 with the San Diego Flyers, a local running club. Before being discovered by Flyers head coach and Hilltop assistant coach James Sanders, she ran with Chula Vista Parks and Rec. So, Valenzuela has both athletic genes and lots of experience.

She wasn’t always a long distance runner. She used to prefer sprints.

“While I was training as sprinter a few years ago during our off-season program coach Sanders notice that I was good at running hills and longer distances. He suggested that we start with me running the 800. From then on I have done well running middle and long distances.”

“Tanya has been undefeated for three years. In her freshman year, sophomore year and this year she has been undefeated in both the South Bay and Mesa Leagues. I think she will do it again this year in the Metro Conference finals,” Sanders said.

Valenzuela has a tried and true formula for success and she is sticking to it.

“I like to get off to fast start and then I keep up with the tempo. In the final hundred yards I give it my all. I have a really strong kick that has been working for me.”

Earlier this fall, she provided a glimpse of what she can do when she finished seventh out of the 87 elite athletes competing in the Mt. SAC Invitational. It no doubt felt great to re-establish her presence coming off of a serious injury.

“I tore my ACL playing soccer last year. So, I had to work extra hard this year. I went to summer camp to get myself back in shape. I feel great now. I think I am faster than I was before,” Valenzuela said.

Not content to rest on her laurels, Valenzuela has big plans in running, both immediate and long term.

“I really want to make the state meet this year. As I sophomore I placed 17th in the CIF meet, but they only take the top 12.”

Both Valenzuela and her coach believe she can do it.

Her high school career will come to a close in June, but her cross country career will not.

“My mom would like me to stay around here for college and the Southwestern College coach has talked to me. He is hoping that I will go there. He thinks after competing for two years at Southwestern that I will be able to get a scholarship to run just about anywhere. I haven’t decided yet. If something good comes along (in the way of a scholarship offer) I will take it.”

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