GLENDORA - Thomas Finnigan was at a crossroads. So he went with his heart.
The Glendora High School senior has never looked back.
Finnigan, after deciding before last season to devote himself full-time to cross country, has become one of the top runners in the CIF-Southern Section.
He will put his talents on display this weekend when the region's best converge on Walnut for the Mt. SAC Invitational on Saturday.
Finnigan, who also played baseball at Glendora his freshman and sophomore seasons, reached elite status only after deciding to leave his diamond heroics behind.
Thomas has really taken a step up, Glendora coach Don Sumner said. I think a big reason (for his success) was him deciding to run track (last spring).
He really worked on his actual speed. In the summer, we had (him work) on his endurance, running four weeks of 80 miles a week and about a week of 90 and a week of 100. We maxed out at 100. I think that mileage he did, plus the track work he did (in the spring) has really allowed him to improve.
And improve he has.
After being the Tartans' No. 2 runner last season, Finnigan has zoomed past teammate Joey Divizia to become the elite
Still, despite all the work during the hot months of July and August, he really wasn't sure what to expect when the season began in September.
His answer came quickly. Finnigan breezed through the competition during the Fastback Shootout at Mt. SAC, nearly setting a meet record with an impressive time of nine minutes, 48 seconds over the two-mile course.
It was going through my head the whole time, Finnigan said. I had it pictured in my head that I was going to win, and to come within a second of the (meet) record, it was like, `Wow.'
But Finnigan was hardly finished. He followed it up with a solid run at the Woodbridge Invitational a week later, scoring a top-20 finish with a 3-mile time of 14:50.
But Finnigan's improvement is not all individual. His success has also come from competing with teammate's Divizia, who ran a 14:59 at Woodbridge, and Corey Bullock, who ran a 10:38 at the Fastback Shootout.
They help me a lot, Finnigan said. Joey was head of me the past two years and I caught him and passed him this year, but we really push each other in practice.
It really helps. We have a very good team and we're ready to make a statement.
That could come Saturday, when Finnigan and his Glendora teammates face their toughest challenge.
But the senior says he is ready.
I'm ready, Finnigan said. My summer training and the training I've been putting in the past couple of months are there, and I can put it to the race and go hard and stay up front.
But Sumner is quick to point out that the challenge is not just how fast his proteg can run, but how he runs against the elite competition, which he will receive Saturday.
The hardest part - the training - is behind him, Sumner said. He's still learning how to race. It's not really easy to just go out and be a front-runner. It's not something that's given to you; you have to learn it.
He's in that process, and he's pretty much got it down. So now he's putting it all together and it seems to be coming together.
He also likes what Finnigan does away from the course.
Running is the whole package, Sumner said. It's not just going out to practice, forget about it and show up for the meet.
He actually takes care of himself, what he eats and how he spends his other time. That helps him a little bit too, to understand running. And he's a little smarter runner (this year).
Finnigan's quest, though, does not begin and end with Saturday's event. He has bigger fish to fry, mainly advancing to the CIF State championships, scheduled for Fresno in November.
That's the ultimate goal, Finnigan said. I think I've done a lot of what I need to do already. But I just need to stay healthy and just keep pushing myself.
I just need to go out there and run, and have a good day.