DATE: Tuesday, December 26, 2000 BYLINE: Ralph Leef, Rich Rupprecht and Erick Studenicka The Press Democrat EDITION: CITY SECTION: SPORTS PAGE: C1 MEMO: Year In Review - Top Ten Empire Stoires of 2000 MONTGOMERY HIGH'S STATE TITLE FOLLOWED BY BEI'S NATIONAL CROWN TOP LIST OFYEAR'S BEST STORIES Before the gun went off at the start of the state cross country meet in Fresno on Nov.25, Montgomery High coach Larry Meredith was searching for the right words. What could he say to the Montgomery girls to let them know that -- even though they had been ranked No.1 in the state for much of the season -- they probably were not going to win the state championship? What could he say to the girls following their race to make them feel good about their second- or third-place finish? ``How could I tell these girls that they had done a fantastic job at shooting for the stars but I hoped they could be happy in settling for the moon?'' Meredith recalled. Of course, Meredith never said anything to put a seed of doubt in the Vikings' minds. Instead, he sent them off reminding them how Sara Bei, now a senior chasing her record fourth consecutive California state title, had run to first place in the 1996 state meet after crossing the mile mark in 46th place. And he asked them to recall the feeling they had earlier in the season at the Mt. Sac Invitational, where they turned in their best race of the season to earn the No.1 ranking in the state. About 20 minutes later, as the Viking runners, led by history-making Bei in first place, began crossing the finish line ahead of schedule with unexpectedly quick times for the 5,000-meter course, Meredith suddenly realized there was no need for a consolation speech. Every member of the team had turned in a remarkable, performance and it was no longer important to him whether the Vikings had won the meet or had placed second or third -- they all were champions in his mind. When the score was tabulated, the Vikings were the official state champions. They had edged Sultana by nine points on a day when all seven of the Vikings -- Bei (first, 17:13), Sarah Bashel (14th, 18:38), Elisa Pedersen (25th, 19:02), Kim Conley (29th, 19:04), Joy Terribilini (55th, 19:32), Christy Sweaney (65th, 19:38) and Amelia Thomas (150th, 21:01) -- had run their best race of the year. No other Empire team had even placed within the top five in previous state meets. The margin of victory was so slim, had any of the Vikings' five scoring athletes ran just 10 seconds slower, Montgomery would have lost the meet. ``I thought a few girls might be able to get some personal records, but we had four girls cut 40 seconds off their previous best,'' Meredith said. ``The idea that five, six or all seven of the team members could have their best races on the same day in the most important meet of their lives was something that never entered my mind.'' Two weeks after the state meet, Bei went on to become the second Empire girl -- in addition to Santa Rosa's Julia Stamps -- to win a national championship when she outsprinted Glendale's Anita Siraki at the Foot Locker National Championship in Orlando, Fla., to conclude her own fantastic season. ``Once every few years in this sport I am reminded that dreams, however unlikely, can indeed come true,'' Meredith said. HIGH SCHOOL TRACK Eleven times in her past, Maria Carrillo's Jenny Aldridge had raced Montgomery's Sara Bei. And 11 times she had come up short against her NBL distance-running rival. But in their 12th meeting at the CIF state track and field championship at Cerritos College on June3, Aldridge picked exactly the right time to record her first victory against Bei. Aldridge outsprinted Bei down the final stretch to win the state title in the 1,600 meters with a time of 4:49.63. Aldridge's father, Puma coach Dan Aldridge, had been second in the state at 880 yards in 1975 while representing Petaluma High. In addition to her second-place finish in the 1,600, Bei was also second in the 3,200. It marked the second consecutive year Bei was second in both distance events at the state meet. BEST OF 2000 1. MONTGOMERY CROSS COUNTRY Sara Bei leads the Vikings to the state championship, then wins the national title to cap a brilliant four-year run. 2. SANTA ROSA JC SOCCER Bear Cub men take a perfect season to the state final four while the women's team comes within minutes of a statetitle. 3. KEVIN MITCHELL The former National League MVP dons a Crushers uniform and gives Sonoma County a memorable season. 4. PETALUMA GIRLS BASKETBALL The Trojans ride a late season wave all the way to the state title game. 5. HIGH SCHOOL TRACK 1,600 METERS Jenny Aldridge and Sara Bei battle at the state track finals. 6. TURMOIL AT SANTA ROSA JC With the team on probation, the school fires men's basketball coach Steve Done. 7. MONTGOMERY FOOTBALL The Vikings finish a fabulous season with the 3A Redwood Empire NCS championship. 8. SOFTBALL LEGEND DIES Walt Guanella, a name synonymous with Santa Rosa fastpitch softball, dies. 9. HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS SOCCER Ursuline upsets Maria Carrillo to win the section title. 10. ERIN BUESCHER Former Rincon Valley Christian basketball star leaves Div. I UC Santa Barbara for The Master's College, an NAIA school.