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Pacific edition, Thursday, September 13, 2007

CAMP ZAMA, Japan

Sweltering heat, soaring humidity, searing sunshine — Andrew Quallio seemed impervious to it all as he pounded for home on the Negishi Heights Naval Housing Facility cross country course last Saturday.

Even the former Florida Class 4-A top-10 runner seemed astounded at what he accomplished on the 2.2-mile course — Quallio covered it in 13 minutes, 30.9 seconds, nearly 21 seconds better than the old mark set in 2002 by Scott Ward of Yokohama International.

“I didn’t have much of a clue where I was timewise,” said Quallio, who transferred from Florida to Zama American last spring.

Quallio and Zama teammate Kevin Blackburn placed 1-2 on Saturday. Blackburn, All-Far East last year, was timed in 13:58.

On top of that, the Trojans beat St. Maur International 26-31 — Zama’s first boys dual-meet victory in Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools competition since 2004.

“I was pretty happy,” Quallio said. “First race of the season, in the heat, the whole team did well, Kevin’s time, that was good.”

Zama has good reason to be happy.

This is the second time in coach Mitch Moellendick’s five-year tenure that he has fielded a full boys team. The girls team has four runners, with a fifth awaiting a physical, which would give Zama its first full complement of boys and girls runners since the 1980s.

That spotty history is clearly doing an about-face, thanks to the welcome addition of Quallio, his performance last spring on the track — school-record 4:39 in the mile, six seconds shy of the school’s two-mile record at 10:04 — and the magnetic effect his presence has had.

“I think we were able to make a statement” so far this season, particularly in Saturday’s race, Blackburn said. “To stay solid and steady. We just ran our race. Actions speak louder than words. You grab people’s attention if you’re actually doing something. That says you’re in it for team.”

“It’s better to walk the walk than to talk the talk,” Quallio said.

Others around the league have begun to take notice and feel that Zama has a chance to perhaps equal its best Kanto finish in the last two decades; the Trojans tied for second in 1988 with St. Mary’s International.

“They definitely have the 1-2 punch,” said Craig Eby, the longtime Kanto Plain meet recorder who just stepped down after 28 years of coaching Christian Academy in Japan.

Eby says the Trojans “have the potential” to finish in the middle to top half of the league, thanks to Quallio’s and Blackburn’s presence.

Quallio, Blackburn and Moellendick are by no means taking anything for granted, they said.

“There are other runners out there,” Moellendick said.

Starting in the Kanto Plain, Quallio and Blackburn must compete with the likes of defending league champion Sam Krauth of American School In Japan, St. Mary’s Langley brothers, CAJ’s Blake Bannister, Nile C. Kinnick’s William Traufler and others.

Then it’s on to Far East on Nov. 5-6 on Okinawa, where Okinawa Activities Council champion Brant Casteel of Kadena, Guam High’s Robert Fry, Seoul American’s John Lohr, Kubasaki’s David Krievs and E.J. King’s David Heitstuman, among others, lie in wait.

“It’s way too early,” Moellendick said, adding that he would like to see one or the other or both break the school record on the 2.9-mile Tama Hills Recreation Center course, 15:08. “It would be neat to see.”

Whatever their achievements, Moellendick is gratified with the “speak with the feet” message emanating through the school, which will host the Kanto Plain Invitational meet Sept. 29 at Trojans Field.

“Hopefully, we’ll keep drawing attention to the sport by whatever we do this season, and get more people to join,” Blackburn said.

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