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ROYAL SETS ITS SIGHTS NATIONWIDE HIGHLANDERS LOOK TO ADD NATIONAL TITLE TO COLLECTION.

Byline: Lauren Gustus Staff Writer

The seeds of success for the Royal High boys' cross country team were planted more than 30 years ago by a man named Ernie Schultz.

Schultz, now retired, was the first coach to bring Royal a Southern Section championship. That was in 1969, when no state meet was held and the section title was a team's biggest accomplishment. Five more titles followed in the next five years.

A mentor to current coach Ryan Luce, Schultz is familiar with this crew of runners, which includes Dylan Jaedtke, Jason Pedersen, Hudsen Andrews, Mike Cybulski and Matt Gulden.

And he sees similarities between his winning teams of old and today's edition.

For starters, Royal has built a strong reputation. Ranked No. 3 in the country, the Highlanders now are the favorites in most meets. After finishing second at the state meet in 2003, they will be favored to claim the title in Fresno on Nov. 27, having already finished better this season than last year's winner, Don Lugo of Chino Hills.

``People like to follow winners,'' Schultz said. ``What happens is the team doesn't want to lose. What happens is the kids that come along, they want that again.''

And the Highlanders have got leadership from Luce and Jaedtke, the team's No. 1 runner. Jaedtke had a breakout season as a junior and now wants the state team championship more than any individual honor.

``If you ever watch him before a race, he's got all the guys together,'' Luce said. ``They're practicing their takeoffs in formation. They're in this formation so they don't trip (at the start). He's developed that. I never said anything. He's definitely one of the best team captains I've ever had.''

Although it is Jaedtke's team, he is reluctant to diminish the importance of any of his teammates. He does, however, take the responsibility seriously, indicated by persistent nerves before big races.

The team will run without him at Clovis on Oct. 9 because the SATs are that day, and it will be a good opportunity for the team to gain confidence without its top runner.

``I don't have to worry about my team because I know that they're strong and I know they'll pull through,'' Jaedtke said. ``They want it every race. I can just see it on their faces. There's a big difference in the attitude from last year to this.''

Schultz applauds Luce for the job he's done so far. He believes the Royal High alumnus understands it goes beyond training and race-day tactics.

``If you have a coach that really cares about the human person, he says, `I know that person. That's Billy Jones, whatever his name may be. I know Billy inside out and backwards,' '' Schultz said. ``Knowing how to put workouts together is important. But a lot of coaches look at a book and say, `Oh, jeez, that looks good.' They don't know what they're doing. That doesn't come easy. Ryan has it. He's learned well.''

Luce said he is following the path that Schultz paved.

``Much of what I've learned has been from him,'' Luce said.

The team took first place last Saturday at the Stanford Invitational, one of the bigger races of the season. Pedersen competed for the first time - he was kept out earlier with a broken toe - and finished seven seconds behind Jaedtke, who finished in 16 minutes flat. The rest of Royal's top five finishers were within 19 seconds of Pedersen.

Gulden, Royal's fifth runner, recorded a personal best at Stanford. He has been involved in the program since he was a freshman and is a model of the work ethic it takes for a team to be No. 1.

Luce said Gulden has been one of the hardest workers on the team.

``The kid doesn't stop,'' Luce said. ``We pumped him up for that big Stanford hill. He passed so many people, it was amazing.

For the first time ever, Nike is sponsoring a team national championship in Oregon at season's end. The top two teams from eight regions across the country will be invited.

But there's a problem: It conflicts with the national individual championships in San Diego, sponsored by FootLocker.

If Jaedtke has to make the choice, it will be easy.

``Nike Nationals. I definitely would go with my team. No question,'' Jaedtke said.

A nationwide team championship was unthinkable 30 years ago. But should Royal reach the starting line in Oregon on Nov. 4, it will be standing on a solid foundation.

Lauren Gustus, (818) 713-3607

lauren.gustus(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Royal High cross country runners, from left, Dylan Jaedtke, Matt Gulden and Kevin Sullivan eye a national title.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 2004
Words:788
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