Jill Callero dashed into last year's state Class AA girls' cross country meet aiming for a top-five finish.
She placed fourth.
Saturday in Pasco, Callero plans to finish on top . . . period. And Enumclaw Coach Frank Lancaster said he believes she'll wind up there.
``I have to go for her,'' Lancaster said. ``She is just too overpowering. If anybody's going to beat her, they're going to have to be super.''
What a difference a year can make, physically and psychologically. Following a summer of rigorous training, Callero is a much stronger runner than she was last year. And more strong-minded.
``She's got one goal, and that's to win it,'' Lancaster said. ``The girls who finished first, second and third ahead of her are coming back as well, and there are a lot of new girls who are good runners. She knows that, but she still plans to go out and win the race. That's what I like about her now.''
Lancaster said he didn't like the way Callero ran the 3,200 at the state track meet last spring. A couple of runners passed her on the next-to-last lap.
``I've got to tell you, I was upset,'' Lancaster said. ``They came along side of her and she didn't even challenge them. I didn't like that.''
Now, Callero doesn't like to be passed.
``If anybody passes me, they're always going to have a fight,'' she said. ``I'll battle back and forth with them, until I win. . . . If someone wants to pass me, they're going to have to work at it.''
When Bremerton's Jennifer Davis edged in front of her just before the two-mile mark in the West Central AA District meet last Saturday, Callero sprinted past Davis to win her second straight title by nearly 10 seconds.
Callero has not been beaten by a Class AA runner this season. Her only two losses were against Decatur freshman Sarna Renfro, the South Puget Sound League champion who was third in the West Central AAA District meet.
``I hated it,'' Callero said of losing. ``I didn't like that feeling of coming in second.''
Callero said she had hoped to get a third shot at Renfro, but it didn't happen. Last Saturday, she checked the times of the runners in the Class AAA meet, which was run on the same course.
``The winning time was 16:42 (Callero's was 16:52),'' Lancaster said. ``But first thing she (Callero) popped in and said, `I had a better time than Renfro.' ''
Lancaster said added aggressiveness, improved confidence and superior conditioning have turned Callero into a true champion. Last year, Callero seldom ran races under 18 minutes. Her past two finishes have been in the 16s.
``She's learned how to run,'' he said.
As a freshman, Callero didn't even turn out for cross country. She chose volleyball, the fall sport she played in junior high. Lancaster, who had seen Callero run as a grade-schooler, could only watch from a distance.
``I knew she was a good runner, but I'm a very ethical person,'' he said. ``I couldn't say, `Forget volleyball.' That's not ethical. There's an unwritten law that you don't recruit athletes from other sports. But she had a good friend who ran cross country. I made sure she (Callero) got the impression that cross country was a lot of fun.''
Callero ran track in the spring, but not the distances. She was a sprinter and hurdler. Heading into her sophomore year, Callero still was undecided about whether to turn out for cross country or volleyball.
``It went right down to the wire,'' she said. ``I had to fill out my green card (activities card), and it was, `Which is it going to be?' ''
Much to Lancaster's joy, it was cross country. She became the Hornets' No. 1 runner and finished 19th at state. Yet Callero still wasn't convinced she was a runner. The following spring, she nearly opted for tennis over track.
``I found out I really didn't have a knack for tennis, so I said, `I'll go try to be a distance runner,' '' Callero said.
She surprised herself at state by taking sixth in the 3,200.
``I decided, this running stuff, that's for me,'' Callero said.
Tim Tubbs, the track team's distance-runner coach, became her motivator.
``He told me, `You can be a state champion, or whatever you want. You can do it if you decide you want to,' '' she said. ``I really had a lot of fun that year and I decided, heck, I'm going to go for it.''
The summer before her junior year, Callero ran about three miles every day. She tasted more success last fall, taking fourth at the state cross country meet. Before that race, she had said a top-five finish would be fine. Not long afterward, she changed her mind. Fourth? How about first?
``After the state meet, I said, `Next year, I've got to get first,' '' Callero said. ``I finished fourth, and at the time I was pleased with that because I didn't think I could get first. I was OK with fourth. But I just decided I could get up there (first). Tim Tubbs talked to me a lot and told me again, `I think you can be a state champion.' The more I thought about it, the better I started to feel. Why not? If I'm going to do it (run), I might as well go out and do it hard.''
She ran hard all summer, logging 30 miles a week, and varied her training - six-mile runs by herself, shorter runs with teammate Melanie Bell, sprints and drills. She did a little cross-training on her bicycle and lifted weights three times a week. Every other week, she'd allow herself a day off.
The highlight of her summer was attending a weeklong running camp at the University of Oregon, the school Callero would love to attend and compete for.
Callero, a 3.9 student, grew up in a competitive atmosphere. She is the next to last of 16 children, six girls and 10 boys. All have been active in sports, primarily basketball. She said she figured basketball would be her forte in high school. But her star status came by running.
``We've always played sports together,'' she said of her family. ``That helped me get that inner drive. It helped me compete, because we were always competitive at home.''
And since the next-youngest girl in her family is seven years older than her, Callero spent most of her younger years playing with older brothers.
``They wouldn't let me be a wimp,'' she said.
Instead, they helped make her a winner. Callero said she doesn't want to sound overconfident as she heads into the state meet. But she doesn't want to tip-toe around her desire to win, either.
``You've got to start saying it if you're going to do it,'' she said. ``This week, I'm really working on believing it.''
-- An individual title isn't the only thing on Callero's mind this week.
``I want our team to do well,'' she said. ``I'd like to see us place in the top three. It would be neat to go over there (Pasco) and place first, but I'd be happy to place in the top three . . . and beat Gig Harbor.''
The Hornets have lost three times to Gig Harbor, including at the district meet. Tahoma, third at district, will also run at state.
-- The Seamount League is sending three teams to the Class AA girls' state meet - Kennedy, Highline and Lindberg. Kennedy, the Seamount champ, finished third at the Sea-King District meet last week behind Lakeside and Nathan Hale. Highline earned its first team berth by taking fourth and Lindbergh was fifth.
-- Mount Rainier freshman Angie Fortner hopes to be among the front-runners at state. She was second to Lakeside's Susanna Matsen at district. Highline's Jenny Campbell took fourth.
On the boys' side, Lindbergh and Mount Rainier are sending teams. Lindbergh was a close second to O'Dea at the Sea-King meet, losing by three points. Kennedy's Paul Graddon was the top individual qualifier, placing third. At the AA West Central District meet, Enumclaw's Chris McCalib was second to advance.
-- The Class AAA boys' meet will include surging Kent-Meridian. After a disappointing third-place finish at the SPSL meet, the Royals captured the district title last Saturday, led by the second-place finish of sophomore Matt Roe.
-- Kentridge and Kentwood are sending girls' teams to state after finishing fourth and sixth, respectively at district. Kentwood's Kay Luo figures to be among the top AAA runners, along with Sarna Renfro.