De La Salle High cross country coach John Pelster doesn't mince words when he talks about this season's team.
"This is so far the fastest team I've coached," said Pelster, who has led the Spartans for the past six seasons and was an assistant coach from 1991-2005.
During that span, De La Salle has a rich distance running tradition. De La Salle, the two-time defending North Coast Section Division I champion, has won 12 NCS team titles since 1990, including three in the past four years. It also has finished in the top five in the state championships five times since 1990, most recently in 2007.
The Spartans won this year's De La Salle/Carondelet Nike Invitational convincingly on Sept. 15 and were also second in the large-school race at the Ed Sias Invitational. They will try to continue their impressive start Saturday at the Stanford Invitational. It starts with the Division IV boys race at 9 a.m. and ends with the Division V girls race at 3:30 p.m.
"Basically, they are talented and they work hard," Pelster said about his team. "During the summer, they ran their miles."
Leading the charge for the Spartans is Blair Hurlock, a junior who transferred to De La Salle from Tracy before his sophomore year. Hurlock opened his season impressively with a clocking of 15 minutes, 12.68 seconds in winning the Nike Invitational.
" I knew he was fit and I knew he would be able to compete somewhere near the front of the Nike Invitational, but I wasn't expecting him to run the third-fastest time (in the course's history)," Pelster said. "The kid is not afraid to work hard. He is a relentless worker. He does not cut corners. ... He really has a burning desire to do well."
Luke Williams, a junior, won the Ed Sias large-school race and was eighth at the Nike Invitational. Matt Schumann, a sophomore, finished in the top eight in both meets.
"We have a really talented and very young team. Four of my top five runners will be back next year," Pelster said.
California has perhaps the East Bay Athletic League's top player in Sabrina Clayton, and defending league champion San Ramon Valley has Emily Reder and several other key pieces. So it might be easy for Foothill to get lost in the EBAL shuffle.
But underestimating the Falcons would be a mistake.
With longtime coach Dusty Collins, the Falcons tied San Ramon Valley last year for the top league's record at 10-4, and in 2010, they won the EBAL and North Coast Section Division I championships.
"Our approach has been the same every year, and that is to get better every day," Collins said. "Most years, including this one, we feel we have a realistic chance at winning the league, and that's our primary team goal. We feel if we are trying to get better every day and work hard and doing that, good results will follow."
The Falcons have started well and, although it's early, find themselves right in the thick of the league race. The EBAL has only one undefeated team left (California) and four teams, including Foothill, have a 2-1 record.
"Once again, our league looks to be solid top to bottom," Collins said. "The team that can bring a consistent level of play each night will end up winning the league."
-- Matt Smith, correspondent
Nearly all of the Bay Area's best boys water polo teams will be in action this weekend at the Richison Tournament, also known as the NCS/CCS Challenge, held at various sites in the South Bay and East Bay.
While defending North Coast Section Division I champion Miramonte won't be attending, just about every other top program from the NCS and Central Coast Section will see how they stack up against one another.
That includes San Ramon Valley, the tournament's defending champion, as well as De La Salle, Acalanes, Campolindo, Las Lomas and Monte Vista. They'll be up against some of the South Bay's best, a list headed by defending section champions Bellarmine Prep-San Jose and Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton.
Campolindo and Acalanes will host tournament games, but the semifinals and championship match will be held at Saint Francis in Mountain View.
-- Stephanie Hammon