Shawn Toney

Los Altos High hurdler Shawn Toney, right, races alongside teammate Jimmy Dessouki in a league meet against Milpitas early in the season. Toney won the 110-meter hurdles at the CCS finals.

Shawn Toney’s success on the track extended his season almost into summer, and Los Altos High’s star hurdler attributes that to training that began last fall.

“This year, me and Jimmy did something different,” said Toney, referring to fellow Los Altos hurdler Jimmy Dessouki. “We got a private coach in September, and we were prepared coming into the season. That really helped us drop our times.”

Toney’s best times came at the season-ending Central Coast Section championships June 19 at Soquel High. The junior won the 110-meter hurdles in a personal-record 15.16 seconds – making him the lone Eagle to claim an event – and placed third in the 300 hurdles with a PR of 39.12.

Toney’s victory put him in rare company. Since the CCS first held the meet 55 years ago, only three other Los Altos boys have grabbed the gold in the 110 hurdles: Vic Brooks (1970), Dan Nord (1995) and Eric Hersey (2005 and 2007). And Since Hersey’s last win, only one Eagle has claimed any event at the CCS finals: Owen MacKenzie in the 3,200 run in 2018.

Los Altos co-head coach Steph MacKenzie, who happens to be Owen’s mom, was ecstatic to see Toney cross the finish line first.

“Having qualified through to the finals in seventh position, this was a very surprising result to everyone watching,” she said, “although Coach Hughes and Coach Carty always knew he had it in him to win.”

That would be hurdles coach Robyn Hughes and assistant coach George Carty, who works with the hurdlers and jumpers.

“Coach Carty and I are so excited that Shawn will come back senior year to keep improving and scoring big points for the Eagles,” Hughes said. “Shawn is a strong finisher, so I was not surprised that he came from behind to win the 110.”

That’s right – Toney needed a late burst to come in first.

“My start wasn’t so great,” he said. “When I went over the first hurdle, I was at the bottom half of the pack. I had to be aggressive and push back.”

Toney pushed back just enough – edging Fremont’s Kathir Balakrishnan by one hundredth of a second – to earn top billing at the ensuing awards ceremony.

“It was a very cool experience to be on top of that podium, with family, teammates and coaches there,” said Toney, whose previous-best time (15.36) came at the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League championships two weeks earlier. “I won’t forget that.”

Another tight race

The 300 hurdles race was memorable as well. Although he took third, Toney knocked almost a second off his previous best (39.90) and nearly caught Dessouki for second place.

“That was really exciting, too,” Toney said. “Jimmy and I knew it was going to be a tight race, and it was; we were separated by one hundredth of a second.”

Toney did finish fast enough to beat the time of someone else he knows well, however – his older brother. Joey Toney ran a personal-best 39.62 in the 2001 CCS finals.

“He used to jokingly give me a hard time (about having a faster time), and now I finally edged him out,” Shawn said of Joey, a 2002 grad of Los Altos who also ran track at UC Santa Barbara.

Choosing a favorite

So, if Shawn could compete in only one hurdle race, which would it be?

“In my opinion, the 110 is more exhilarating – the competition is so much closer and tighter – but I get more joy from the 300,” he said. “I’m also a 400 runner, and the 300 is more like running the 400, which I love to run.”

Toney got a chance to run 400 meters as the anchor of Los Altos’ 4x400 relay team at CCS. The foursome that also included Dessouki, Tomoki Chien and Charlie Atkins placed second with a 3:27.12.

“Through the whole season and (CCS) trials we were undefeated and had the fastest time in CCS, so we were excited to get out there,” Toney said. “We got second by just a little bit (ahead of Monte Vista Christian).”

Reflecting on success

When his day was done, Toney had three medals draped around his neck: gold, silver and bronze.

“All credit to my coaches and teammates,” he said. “I appreciate them a lot.”

Along with praising his coaches for their dedication and hard work, Toney lauded Dessouki for helping him become a champion.

“It’s a huge advantage to have Jimmy on the same team,” the Los Altos resident said. “Even in practice, we push each other and make each other better – and we’re really good friends.”

Toney won’t have Dessouki pushing him next year, though; he just graduated.

“It will be hard to match what I did this year, and it will be different without Jimmy,” he said. “I’m just going to try to get better. I’m going to run over the summer and work with my private coach again.”

Toney added that he would like to continue his track career in college, ideally at a school with a good balance of academics and athletics.