Senior runner guides boys

No one broke away immediately from the mass of red, black and blue Wolverines and Eagles at the beginning of the varsity boys’ cross country meet at Brentwood. At the bottom of the first stretch, co-captain Chris Okano ’08 was only a step or two ahead of his nearest teammates and competitors.

Something happened in the next 15 minutes as the team traversed the hills and fields behind Brentwood School. Hardly a rare occurrence, Okano had put nearly an eighth of a mile between himself and the next runner by the end of the race, showing why he has established himself as one of the biggest names on the cross country team.

Okano started his last year of distance running at the pace he has become known for. He posted one of his best times, 15:32, at Woodbridge Park at the beginning of the season and followed that time up by handily winning the Brentwood meet. This success is only building on his work from last season, where he posted a time of 15:58 and was the second best junior at one of the biggest meets of the year, the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational. He finished the year by becoming the only member of the team to qualify for the state championships after finishing ninth at CIF finals and topped that off by winning a Daily News all-area honorable mention for boys’ cross country.

Okano’s accomplishments, however, only describe part of his time with the team. As one of the few four-year varsity runners, he has seen the team go through a fair amount of turbulence since he joined the squad, including a coaching change right before last year began and the exponential growth of what began as a very small squad. Throughout it all, Okano has steadily grown into his position as co-captain, a title which he shares with Matthew Krumpe ’08.

Okano came onto the school’s distance scene in seventh grade when he broke the seventh grade school record in the mile. Okano began to run cross country in the fall and then ran distance for the track team in spring in addition to playing his first sport, soccer.
When he joined the varsity team as a freshman, Okano found himself under the leadership of Jared Bell ’05. Bell, one of the more dominant runners in school history, won one of the school’s four CIF Masters titles before running for Yale.

Okano said that he started to learn from Bell and started to shift into his role as a team leader after Bell graduated.

“I don’t think the change from ninth to 10th grade would be possible without Jared’s help,” Okano said.

Okano was one of the runners called on to help lead the senior-deprived team last year. In addition,  Bird replaced former head coach Tim Sharpe in late August 2006, right before the new season.

Okano and his habits helped to make sure that the transition was as smooth as possible.

“I think it was a lot of help to have somebody there who has been a good role model through his work ethic,” Bird said. “Chris is a very hard worker who demands a lot of himself. And when you come in [as a coach], you want that work ethic to spread every day.”

Okano’s measure of himself and durability throughout the season has grown, and Bird cannot remember a race that Okano has missed during his tenure as head coach. All those races just amount to more chances to pull away from his competitors. He put it simply enough himself: “I like beating people.”