Matt Strangio didn't see this coming, and that's OK, because neither did a good many who packed into Veteran's Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Using the element of surprise, the Jesuit High School sophomore pulled an upset worthy of a rich storyline in the 100th CIF State Track and Field Championships on Saturday night, storming to the lead with less than a lap to go and then holding off stiff competition to win the 3,200 meter run and leaving track guru's to buzz about how far he's come and how good the lanky lad can be.
It was a grueling eight-lap exersise, and Strangio didn't just reach the top of the victory stand, he bolted right into Marauders lore, prevailing in a lifetime best 8 minutes, 56.18 seconds for a program that has produced scores of state champion distance runners.
Strangio held off the fast feet and sharp elbows of Justin Hazell of El Camino Real of Woodland Hills, a CIF State Cross Country winner last fall, and then embraced his medal well after it was all over.
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"I didn't know what to expect because I was injured for three weeks with a bad ankle," said Strangio, whose previous best was 9:00.20 in the Arcadi Invitational in April. "I had some faith coming in here, and then you just think, 'whatever happens, happens.' I'm very proud."
So is his distance coach, Walt Lange, one of the great champions in state history from track and cross country. Lange motivates his distance greats by reminding them of previous Jesuit distance greats.
And it's some list. Twins Eric and Mark Mastalir won CIF State distance races in 1986. Michael Stember won back-to-back 1,600 meter runs in 1995 and '96. Other Jesuit winners in the 3,200 were Paul Thomas in 1987 and Matt Farley in 1993.
Strangio knows all the names, the marks, the significance.
"Every day I see it or hear about it, and it's great," said Strangio, a 4.0 student. "Walt Lange will bring it up before meetings. He's a great mentor, the best coach in America. He'll tell me, 'you can be the next Stember or Mastalir."
For now, he's the best Strangio, with a lot left to do.
He caught the attention of Davis coach Bill Gregg, who has coached his share of terrific distance runners.
"That was remarkable," Gregg said of Strangio's effort. "I've known his parents for years. He's got something that you cannot quantify. Someone passes him in a race and it doesn't bother him. He has just gotten better and better and better."