Thursday, December 02, 2021

Catching up with Albany HS junior, Sean Morello

Today we chat with Albany junior, Sean Morello. Last Saturday at the California State Meet, Morello finished in 3rd place in the Division IV race in a time of 15:09.9. That time placed him as the 12th fastest runner overall as well as the 4th fastest runner from Northern California. Morello also led his Albany teammates to the state team title, their first in school history. Amazingly, this was the first time Albany had also qualified to the state meet following their first section title the previous week. During the spring, Morello put himself on the California distance map with 4:16.47 and 9:08.80 personal bests.

1) How did you get your start in running? What sports did you play before high school? Any PRs for any track distances you had before high school?
I have always participated in sports for as long as I can remember. I did not start running track and cross country until 6th grade. Prior to that, I focused on basketball and football, both of which I still enjoy today. In middle school, I was not much of a distance runner; initially, my favorite event was the 400 m, which I ran in about 57 seconds. By chance, at our championship meet in 8th grade, I ran the 1600 m dash. Our best miler (Ben Elfenbaum), who is a key runner and scorer on our Albany team that won this year’s state meet, was sick and unable to run that day. I figured I'd try it out and it went well (I had a first-place finish and ran 5:07). After that, I knew distance running was going to be my thing. 

2) What do you remember about your freshman year in both cross country? Highlights? Who were the older runners that were role models for you?
The step from middle school to high school cross country was pretty big: we went from running maybe 3 miles four times per week to running 5-6 miles every day. Initially, this sounded like a lot of mileage, but I fit right into what was a very supportive cross-country community. My two teammates (Jack and Ben Elfenbaum) and I had the opportunity to run Varsity as a freshman, which was very exciting and an amazing opportunity. Our captain at the time (Henry Burditt) had gone to the state meet a year prior as a junior, and I think that was a big inspiration for me as a freshman. I had no real aspirations to do anything crazy that season and mostly ran for fun, so it was a shock when I qualified for the state meet as an individual at the North Coast Section meet in 2019 (I ran a 16:08 on the Hayward HS course). I think my favorite memory from my freshman season was going to the Mt. Sac Invitational in Walnut, CA, and going to Disneyland with the team the day after. It did a lot to build up our community and connection and it was a great experience all-around.

3) You were able to run one race during your freshman year track and field season. What happened once everything was shut down? Were you able to run? Do any time trials?
I did indeed run only one race my freshman track season; however, it was not because of COVID-19. I broke my collarbone several days after my first race, effectively ending my season. Little did I know that a week later, the season would be canceled for everyone because of the shut-down related to COVID-19. I guess I got lucky: out of all possible times to get injured, I chose a pretty good time. Unable to do much in the way of running, I turned to stationary cycling as an alternative way to exercise. After about two months, I was finally cleared to start running again. 

4) What kept you motivated during your sophomore year as the cross country season was canceled in the fall? Were you able to meet with your teammates?
I was fortunate enough to run with a great team (Ben, Jack, Krisityan Klichev, and Lucas Cohen); all were highly motivated to continue training even without any formal season. We ran together every day throughout the summer and into the fall. Sometimes, we may have overdone it (one time, we ran 17+ miles across the SF/Oakland Bay Bridge, but it helped to keep us motivated and built team spirit. Running was our primary means of socializing during what was a very isolating time; it also helped us prepare us for the next season.

5) Where do you feel that you improved the most during your sophomore year? What were the reasons for that improvement?
I saw a steep increase in my performance towards the end of my 2021 track and field season and I dropped a ton of time off my 1600-meter and 3200-meter times. I can't be sure exactly what it was that did it but I think having the chance to run against some very talented runners like Ajani Salcido (Jesuit ’21), Nolan Topper (Bellarmine ‘21), and John Lester (Amador Valley ’21) gave me the confidence I needed to be unafraid to go out there and leave it all on the track.

6) What do you feel were your best races last spring in track and field? 
My best performance of the year was unquestionably at the third Dublin Distance Fiesta in Dublin, CA, where I ran a 9:08 in the 3200-meter dash. I think I can safely say that was one of my best races ever; everything about it was just perfect. I was seeded second to last out of over a dozen runners, all of whom had times much faster than my own. I knew the competition was going to be stiff and there was almost no pressure or expectation on me to beat most of the other guys. It was also one of my last races of the season, so I knew I had nothing to lose. Forgetting all my previous times and pacing, I just went for it. I started the first lap in dead last, and by the end, I had finished in fourth, with a massive PR. (Andrew Cohen photo below)

7) The Albany boys just won league, section, and state team titles. Were any of those accomplishments on your team's radar during the summer? How often did you guys run together? 
Our pre-season started way back in June right after school got out when our team took our annual three-day summer training trip to Point Reyes. Back then, I was conspiring with my coach, Craig Stern, about what it would take to make it to state as a team. We both threw the idea around a bit, and while I always knew we had the potential, I don't think the actual possibility was realized by any of us until the season began and we started throwing down some serious times and scores. That first running camp in early June is crucial, especially for our newest team members--it really gets people excited to run and train for the rest of the summer.

8) What was your team's reaction when it was officially announced that you guys won the state championship? Where did you guys think you could finish at the state meet leading up to the race? What was the team plan? What was your own plan for the race?
Going into the race, we knew we wanted to start out fast—we also knew that winning state was about more than one person. It would take a perfect day from everyone on the team. My teammates (Lucas Cohen, Jack Elfenbaum, Ben Elfenbaum, Kristiyan Klichev, Jared Nakahara, and Sam Givner) all ran incredibly well. I reminded them all to trust their fitness, take it out strong, and to be confident. Before every race when we have our team cheer, we usually deliver a few short words of inspiration. When we were standing in our circle seconds before the start, I told my boys I had nothing to say because we all already knew what needed to be done, and we all knew that we were capable of something great. After the race, initially, some of us were shocked. I remember Kristiyan, one of our key scorers, didn't believe it when they told us. He told me, "No, they must have messed up!" But any surprise we had was quickly overtaken by excitement and we were all jumping up and down shouting in the middle of the crowd. This excitement was only elevated when our teammate Sophia Nordenholz ran a blistering race with the fastest time of the day and an individual state championship. (Andrew Cohen photo below)

9) Can you tell us about your coach Craig Stern and how he has helped you develop into the runner you are today. 
I consider my team and myself among some of the most fortunate runners out there. Coach Craig has always gone the extra mile to do everything we need: compiling massive amounts of information on our competitors, planning out workouts weeks in advance, and organizing team events and meets like our summer activities and travel invitationals like Clovis and Mt. Sac. He has never placed any limit on what he believes we can do, always encouraging us to pursue our goals no matter how lofty. 

This season, we were also fortunate to have an Assistant Coach (Yvonne Gallegos). Coach Gallegos was an incredible asset to the team, like Coach Craig, always doing whatever was necessary to prepare for meets. Both our coaches were also key in helping us with logistics, including hauling all of our equipment, gear, and other essentials to meets.

10) What does a typical week look like for you? How much mileage? Any morning runs? How often do you do strength work? What do you feel you can improve going into your junior track season?
During the normal season, I typically run somewhere around 45 miles a week. Usually, I don't run in the morning unless it's on the weekend. I try to do weights and band work in addition to core a few times a week, but not every day. I think developing a more regimented weight routine would probably be good instead of just fitting it in when I have time.

11) Favorite XC Meet? Favorite XC course? Favorite XC workout? Favorite TF Meet? Favorite TF event? Favorite long run? Favorite team tradition? Favorite free time activity?
I think my favorite meet has got to be the Clovis Invitational. It's always great being able to run with all the top competition from all divisions; it's also good to practice running on the state course. While Woodward Park is a great course itself, it's a close call between it and my own home course at Pt. Pinole where we have our league meets. I like them both because they're almost completely on dirt, which I prefer running on vs. cement or concrete. Although I think Pinole might just be a little better because of its location right on the Bay, you can see San Francisco and the bridges, and the sunsets are great. 

For track and field, the Dublin Distance Fiestas were a great experience: lots of good competition and a stellar Afghani restaurant (Khyber Pass Kabob) nearby where I like to order chicken and rice during the several hours between events. While I enjoy cross country more, I think my favorite track event is the 3200-meter dash; the 1600-meter dash is just a little too short. One of my favorite locations for long runs is the Bear Valley trail in Point Reyes, which is a beautiful 10 mile run to the ocean through a foggy forest and a wide well-maintained dirt trail. The other favorite is the Rodeo Valley loop in Marin County, which provides some killer hills and views of the whole Bay. When I'm not running, I enjoy going to the beach to play volleyball and surf or going into San Francisco with my friends.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
Thank you to Milesplit and Mr. Caruana for the opportunity to answer these questions! In a world in which Cross Country is often a sport that does not receive the most attention, Milesplit does an excellent job of putting the spotlight on the sport. 

Thank you very much for your time, Sean. AJC 

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