2012-03-01 / Sports

Panther seniors on a mad dash to glory

By Eliav Appelbaum

START YOUR ENGINES—The Newbury Park High 4x400 boys’ relay team is paced by seniors, from left, Bryan Avendaño, Austin Lasater, Kendall Esparza, Terry Pagano and Sean Fought. NPHS has won three straight Marmonte League titles in the event. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers START YOUR ENGINES—The Newbury Park High 4x400 boys’ relay team is paced by seniors, from left, Bryan Avendaño, Austin Lasater, Kendall Esparza, Terry Pagano and Sean Fought. NPHS has won three straight Marmonte League titles in the event. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers The Newbury Park High boys’ track and field program has something special going on in the 4x400-meter relay.

For three straight seasons, the Panthers have sealed first place in the event at the Marmonte League championships.

A blend of sprinters and distance runners comprise this year’s 4x400 crew, which is working hard to secure a fourth straight league crown.

Seniors Terry Pagano, Austin Lasater, Bryan Avendaño, Kendall Esparza and Sean Fought propel the relay squad, while several juniors push the veterans for starting legs.

Pagano won the 400 run in a personal record 49.4 seconds at the Marmonte championships last spring. He also netted a league title in the 400 as a freshman.

The 4x400 is the premier event for Newbury Park, Pagano said.

“It’s a great event,” Pagano said. “It’s an exciting event. The whole track team gets behind us.”

After setting a PR split of 48.2 seconds in the 4x400 as a junior, Pagano said he wants the relay squad to make a strong postseason push in the CIF-Southern Section preliminaries and finals, and possibly the state meet.

A straight-A student, Pagano credited coach Jenny Kenyon with aiding the Panthers.

“Coach Jenny has helped out the 4x400 runners,” the senior said. “She really helped our talent pool, helping kids get a lot more speed. Without her, we wouldn’t be where we are as a track and field team.”

Pagano played football for three seasons and basketball for one winter at NPHS. He wants to earn a track scholarship.

A volunteer at Simi Valley Hospital, Pagano also spends time in the youth peer ministry group at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church in Newbury Park.

Lasater will try to cement a starting spot on the relay team with a strong showing at the Black and Gold alumni meet Saturday on the NPHS campus.

A four-year cross country runner, Lasater relies on strong form to excel in the relay. He said he’s working on his knee lift, takeoff and left arm swing.

Lasater’s main event is the 800, where he clocked in a careerbest time of 2:03 despite missing six weeks with a high- ankle sprain in 2011.

“I like that race,” he said of the 800. “It’s the perfect blend of something very hard and rewarding. It’s a good blend of speed and endurance.”

Lasater, who plans to study sports medicine at Cal State Northridge, enjoys participating in extreme sports, including wakeboarding, snowboarding and riding dirt bikes.

He also seems to be impervious to cold temperatures.

When he went on vacation to Alaska with his grandmother Susan Lee, Lasater wore a T-shirt and shorts—just like the natives.

“This is my element,” he said on a windy and cold Monday afternoon. “I love it. I’ve always liked the cold.”

Lasater will continue pushing himself.

“I like challenging myself,” he said. “I find inspiration from the world around me to create motivation for myself. I’m always interested in people who come from nowhere and become superstars.

“I don’t necessarily think I’ll be like that, but that’s something to keep you going. That and the constant encouragement from my dad (Tom Lasater) to do my best every day.”

Avendaño competes in the 200, 400 and 4x100 relay. The sprinter has also run cross country for four years.

In previous seasons, Avendaño has run the first leg of the 4x400.

“We’re pretty confident we can repeat,” he said.

Avendaño had a chance to meet his favorite track star, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, during an October clinic at Mt. San Antonio College.

An honors student, Avendaño is leaning toward studying kinesiology at Westmont College. The Panther is active with Junior State of America debate club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“This is a tight group of guys,” Avendaño said of the seniors.

“As teammates, we go through the ups and downs of the season. We help each other through it. I’m proud to call them my teammates.”

Esparza is another studentathlete to watch.

The Panther, who runs the 800 and 1,600, said competition breeds success.

“No one has a sure spot,” Esparza said. “That’s good because we’re all trying to get better. We don’t have a guaranteed spot on the team. It will help us be competitive in league if we’re competitive with ourselves.”

A talented three-sport standout, the Panther has participated in cross country, soccer and track for all four seasons.

That versatility helps him in the 4x400, where he’s run a PR split of 52 seconds. His best time in the 800 is 1:58.

“I have endurance from cross country and speed from soccer,” Esparza said. “It’s about having form and not falling apart in the last 50 meters, keeping it together.”

Esparza, who has a 4.6 gradepoint average, said he wants to run and study engineering or math at a University of California school. He’s a member of the Model U.N. and the Future Business Leaders of America clubs.

“I need to push myself mentally,” Esparza said. “I hit a wall in the 400. Sometimes I go in feeling good. Sometimes I feel down. I need to work on staying in there.”

A cross country runner who played soccer for two years, Fought also runs the 800 and 1,600.

Fought said he enjoys closing out meets in the 4x400.

“It’s always at the end,” he said. “Everyone comes down to watch the four of us. We try to finish out the meet strong.”

Fought lives for big moments.

He said he took this offseason seriously. He often completes two workouts a day during the week. He’s eating healthy, getting rest and staying on top of his form.

“I want to make my senior year count,” Fought said.

The Panther has a split PR of 50.7 seconds in the 4x400. His best time in the 800 is 1:58—he’s trying to get that time down to 1:51 by the end of the season.

A solid A student, Fought enjoys playing the guitar and spending time with his friends.

The Panthers are ready to make some noise in the 4x400 relay.

“This is a diverse group,” Esparza said. “We all come together.”

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