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A second career?

Valencia’s Aly Drake has a soccer scholarship, but track and field might be an option

Posted: May 27, 2009 10:15 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2009 4:56 a.m.

Valencia High senior runner Aly Drake sits on the track at the school Wednesday. Drake, the CIF-Southern Section Division I champion, will compete in the 800-meter race in Friday's CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet at Cerritos College.

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Aly Drake had no big plans for track and field.

Her first love is soccer, and she earned a scholarship to the University of San Francisco after starring for Valencia High School the past four years.

Track was just a means to stay in shape in the offseason.

That all changed after this past weekend’s CIF-Southern Section Division I championships at Cerritos College.

Drake ran the 800-meter race in a school-record 2 minutes, 9.95 seconds to win the Division I title, and track is suddenly more than just a spring distraction.

“Soccer is my passion,” Drake says. “Track is fun, but I don’t know how far I could go. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I talked to (USF track coach Helen Lehman-Winters), and she said playing both could be done.”

Drake’s performance in the 800 seemed like it couldn’t be done.

She eclipsed her Foothill League-winning time by almost four seconds. Her time would have placed sixth at this season’s Pac-10 conference track and field championships.

The only female runner in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley to post a better time was Canyon’s Alysia Johnson, who won the 2004 state championship and the 2007 NCAA Division I national championship at the University of California, Berkeley.

What’s more, Drake’s soccer scholarship only covers 70 percent of her tuition, so Lehman-Winters and the track team may be able to cover most of the remaining costs, if not all.

“I was talking to the coach and she was saying she could add to it, but she didn’t say what she could definitely add,” Drake says.

She continues to be in touch with both Lehman-Winters and Dons women’s soccer coach Mark Carr about her chances of playing both sports in college.

“The soccer coach was excited,” she says. “He said he’d help me no matter what.”

No matter what happens, the spotlight on Drake has grown much brighter this season.

She credits the training regimen of new sprints coach Darryl De La Vega, who came to Valencia with new girls head coach Jeff Gilkey this past offseason from Hart High School.

Drake had run shorter races like the 400 for most of her career, but De La Vega put her 400 and 800 times side by side and asked Drake where she thought she could have more success.

She decided to commit more time to the 800, and De La Vega’s training appealed to Drake.

“I broke it down,” De La Vega says. “I put cones every 100 meters and had a target time. I shortened the race, and she liked it.”

Each practice week, De La Vega works on Drake’s endurance the first couple days and then works on her speed toward the end of the week.

“The first 200 meters are crucial,” De La Vega says of the 800. “If you don’t come around fast you’ll be in the back of the pack. I tell her to settle in and go at the pace of the pack. The last 400 is where she sets herself up to build that kick.”

The regimen yielded excellent results, with Drake capturing the CIF-SS Division I crown in impressive fashion.

And she’s glad she did.

“My friends were doing stuff that night and I missed it,” she says. “I didn’t want to lose the race and have a bad day.”

Drake shook off pre-race butterflies and started strong, staying with the pack for the first 400 meters.

She moved up to second and then focused on Long Beach Poly’s Neausha Logan, the lead runner and defending state champion in the event.

Once they reached the final 100 meters, Drake pushed into her kick and wound up beating Logan by more than half a second.

Exhausted but victorious, Drake looked into the stands and saw her family and coaches cheering.

“I was ecstatic,” De La Vega says. “I couldn’t believe it. I told her if she could avoid leading, then do it. It puts all that pressure on the lead runner. She ran a perfect race.”

Drake will now take part in the CIF-SS Masters meet Friday at Cerritos College with a chance to advance to next weekend’s state meet at Buchanan High School in Clovis.

She will also graduate from Valencia with school records in the 400 (57.6 seconds) and 1,600 (5:05.90).

Gilkey believes she’s only begun to tap her potential in the 800.

“Here’s a girl who can do any running event she puts her mind to,” he says. “She’s not burnt out on the 800. She’s not heading to college beat up mentally or physically as a runner.

“I don’t think anyone wouldn’t tell you she’s one of the toughest ladies around.”

jgulino@the-signal.com

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