By Gideon Rubin
In a sport heavily dominated by individual accomplishments, elite distance runners Megan Morgan and Alli Billmeyer have embraced the team concept and run with it.
Morgan, a University of Washington-bound senior, and junior Billmeyer, have forged the nucleus of a Torrey Pines dynasty in cross country, and put the track and field team in the national spotlight.
Within a span of less than six month starting in November, the Falcons dynamic duo, who are best friends, led cross country team to its school record fifth consecutive San Diego Section Div. I cross-country title, its first Div. I state title, and spearheaded a distance medley relay team that last month posted the 12th best recorded time in the nation of all time.
Both are considered contenders for individual titles at the June 4 and 5 CIF state championships at Buchanan High of Fresno.
Morgan is considered among the most formidable challengers in a 3,200-meter heat in which her longtime rival/friend/training partner, Rancho Bernardo's Molly Grabill, is a prohibitive favorite.
Billmeyer is among a handful of top competitors in the 1,600-meter field that has no clear cut favorite.
Santa Fe Christian sprinter Jenna Puterbaugh figures to contend in the 100 and 200 heats.
Billmeyer and Morgan are vying for what would be the Falcons first girls state track title.
But it is the team concept that propels both runners.
"I think people perform better when they know they're running for a bigger cause than just themselves," Morgan said.
"It really creates such a cool environment where we can push each other," Billmeyer said. "I think it trickles down to all the runners on our team. It makes everybody work harder."
The Falcons cross country dynasty started in 2005, with Erin Gillingham leading the Falcons to the first of five cross-country titles. Ever since then, the Falcons' success has created its own momentum.
"Since my freshman year it seems like every year we've been improving," Morgan said. "It's fun to think that now I can possibly be on the podium this year. It makes me feel like all the hard work was worth it."
Although they share a singular purpose, Morgan and Billmeyer have different personalities and running styles.
Morgan is the ultra-intense competitor whose ability to maintain a pace with merciless efficiency makes her an especially formidable opponent on longer courses, and her "whatever-it-takes" mentality rubs off on her Torrey Pines track and cross country teammates.
Billmeyer is the more laid back middle distance runner with a flair for the dramatic who prefers the energy of a packed stadium to the wide open cross country course.
"She's extremely talented, which makes it really fun to watch because you never know what she's going to pull out of the hat," Morgan said of Billmeyer.
It was at last month's Mt. Sac Relays in Walnut where Billmeyer really turned heads, running the opening 1,200 meters of the Falcons distance medley relay in an unheard of 3:23.14, setting the tone for a performance that at the time was fastest recorded time in the nation this season by 13 seconds, and obliterated a San Diego County record by 14 seconds.
Brianna Ellis followed, running the 400 in 1:01.20. Ashlyn Dadkhah and Morgan ran the 800 and 1600 legs in 2:19.93 and 4:58.57, respectively.
"That record's not going to fall for a long time," Torrey Pines girls coach Charlenne Falcis-Stevens said. "It's not easy to get four girls together like that at that caliber.
"It was neat to watch."
Falcons cross country and distance coach Brent Thorne believes that breaking records just scratches the surface of what Morgan and Billmeyer, among others, have accomplished at Torrey Pines, noting the team's runners in the last five years or so have transformed a culture.
"I think it's more than just breaking records," Thorne said. "They've set standards, that things can be accomplished beyond what you think or what you've perceived.
"Whether it's cross country with team title on the line, or the (distance medley relay leading up to Mt. Sac, they just don't see that there are boundaries. It's like 'We've dreamed it, we want it, now let's go and do it.' "
Whatever the outcome of the state meet, Morgan and Billmeyer say they're determined to keep the Falcons tradition going.
"I've always believed in the team atmosphere and the character it builds," Morgan said.
"I hope the legacy lives on because that's what makes this team special."
- Morgan and Billmeyer will compete in the CIF state championships
- Buchanan High, Fresno
- June 4 and 5