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Sunday, Jan 19 2014 10:07 PM

Career of excellence helps Stockdale's Haney to boys honor

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    By The Californian

    Stockdale senior Blake Haney runs toward the finish line at the CIF-State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 30, 2013. Haney holds off Concord De La Salle senior Blair Hurlock in the sprint to the finish line. Haney finished third, covering the 5,000-meter course in 15:09.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    There is no one else in sight as Stockdale's Blake Haney crosses the line to win the Division I boys cross-country race at the CIF Central Section Championships.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Stockdale's Blake Haney leads the Division I boys cross-country race at the CIF Central Section Championships at Woodward Park In Fresno. Haney would stretch his lead from this point and went on to win by a comfortable margin.

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

Blake Haney's high school running career has been sensational, historic even, and it's not finished yet.

But coming into his senior season, there was still one missing piece from Haney's puzzle at Stockdale: A start-to-finish cross country season that he could be proud of.

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"Some people thought maybe I wasn't that great in cross country, but I think I proved them wrong," Haney said.

Haney is the BVarsity Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year after a season in which he won a second Central Section title, finished third in the CIF Division I State Championship race and placed second in Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.

He also won the prestigious Woodbridge and Stanford Invitationals and went unchallenged locally.

"I didn't do as well as I wanted at the end, but they were all good races, and I'm pretty happy," Haney said. "I don't really regret anything."

Haney came in as a co-favorite in the state race, so coming in third was a mild disappointment. Looked at another way, though, those high expectations are a clear illustration of how far Haney has come as a cross country runner.

As a youth runner, Haney started as a sprinter and then generally progressed, under his dad's guidance, to longer distances like the 400 meters, 800 meters and 1,600 meters or mile.

"But he never ran cross country till he got to high school," says Ken Haney, Blake's dad and still one of his coaches. "Freshman year was kind of an exploration year, and he showed promise."

Haney's sophomore year was better, and it ended with a section title. Still, Ken Haney said, that was thanks more to Blake's prodigious talent and competitive drive than anything.

"Sophomore year I felt like I was good, but the strength was never there," Haney said. "I've always run fast, but strength wasn't there, either maturity-wise or running enough. I was still kind of new."

Then, as a junior, Haney missed most of cross country season with an IT band injury near his right knee. He competed in the postseason but struggled with form and fitness because of the injury.

Then he went and won state titles in both distance events at the CIF State Track Championships -- only the second junior ever to do so -- and primed himself for one last go at cross country.

It started with a course-record 13:55 at the three-mile Woodbridge Invitational, one of the fastest times in the country this year. Haney didn't lose until a month later in the Arcadia Invitational, and he dominated the Central Section before running a close third in 15:09 in the D-I state race.

"Obviously I'm never going to know how good I would have been last year," Haney said, "but I think I made up for it a little. It was more to prove to myself that I was a good cross country runner. I knew I could be, but it was something I needed to do."

The week before the state finals, Haney verbally committed to run at Oregon, where the famous Hayward Field houses the Ducks' track and field program, but also where Haney will run the storied Prefontaine Trail and be on the cross country team.

"I don't think we ever really got cross country right," Ken Haney said. "We never got to the same level we did in track... But it's hard to put into words how proud I am of him. It's amazing what he's done."

And this is before one last high school track and field season, where Haney can build on a junior season that ended with a fifth-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the Youth World Championships in Poland.

"Every year, my expectations have gone up for him," Ken Haney said. "I know he's got more speed than he's shown the last couple of years. After his freshman year, I realized he needed more aerobic strength and backed off his speed, but I think he's got a huge amount of potential when we break out the speed."

The cross country portion of his high school career finished, Blake Haney's accomplishments are already grand. He can add to them in track season, where he hopes to run a sub-four minute mile (he would be just the sixth American high schooler to break that barrier), perhaps at the Dream Mile in New York or at the Prefontaine Classic in his new home of Eugene, Ore.

"It's really cool to kind of look back," Haney said. "My freshman year, I think about it while I was running, 'Oh, it'd be so cool to go there and run this event.' You dream about it a little bit, but you never know if it's going to happen.

"It happened so fast it's been surreal. I've had such great people around me, I'm really thankful and lucky."

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