When Will Frankenfeld began this cross country season, he put two words as its theme: unfinished business.
Last year as a junior, the Long Beach Poly standout proved himself the best distance runner in the city, but was disappointed with the way he finished the season, taking 13th place in the CIF-SS Finals and falling short of reaching the prestigious Foot Locker Nationals.
“The season ended on such a sour note,” he said. “Like, come on, I know I can do better than that.”
All he’s done this year is obliterate the competition. He’s rewritten the record books in the Moore League, breaking the course record at League Finals at Heartwell by 23 seconds. Then last week in Riverside Frankenfeld won the CIF-SS Division 1 championship with a time of 14:35, grabbing Poly’s first individual CIF gold in cross country since 2000.
Powering Frankenfeld’s improvement is an otherwordly kick–nobody in Southern California closes a distance race better than he does. Poly coach Mike Fillipow has coached some outstanding runners, but said he’s never seen anyone finish like Frankenfeld.
“Watching him in workouts, I’ve told other coaches, ‘Take this in,’” said Fillipow. “You don’t see it very often, someone just dominating workouts. We’ll start him behind a pack of very good runners and he’ll still catch them and run through them. He’s just on a different level.”
In previous years, Frankenfeld would run big races towards the back of the lead pack or in the second group, then sprint the last half-mile, passing plenty of runners but ultimately having too much ground to make up to win it. This year, Fillipow and Frankenfeld’s strategy has been for him to go out faster so there’s less ground to make up.
Frankenfeld has been so successful with that approach that when longtime former Poly girls cross country coach Nate Bershtel saw that Frankenfeld was in the lead at the midway point of the CIF Finals, he said, “Calling it now, Will for the win.”
“He’s just on a different level,” said Fillipow. “It’s as much mental as physical. You’ve got to have that will to dig there at the end when you’re hurting, which he definitely does.”
The road hasn’t always been smooth for Frankenfeld, who’s said he’s very close with his mother and sister but has a difficult relationship with his father, who’s struggled with homelessness and mental health issues.
“It’s just something I have to accept, it sucks but there’s not much I can do about it,” said Frankenfeld. “I hate when people say they feel sorry about it.”
Frankenfeld, who’s a student in Poly’s CIC magnet, has taken his observations and experiences and found a way to make something positive out of them.
“If there’s a silver lining I think it’s that I know a lot more about the system and how we treat the homeless,” he said. “We have a shelter in North Long Beach and you’re not allowed to just show up, you have to take a bus from downtown Long Beach or the Westside. So if you’re a homeless man in Bixby Knolls or on the river in North Long Beach, you have to take a bus downtown to get a bus to the shelter. There’s things like that don’t make sense–I’d love to sit at the table with policy makers and talk about that.”
Frankenfeld isn’t just talk on that subject, either. Those who’ve spent time with him say it’s not uncommon to hear him talk about zoning policies and the need for more housing, as well as more mental health facilities.
“Oh we’ve had long conversations about city planning,” said Fillipow. “He’s really taken the time to educate himself on those issues.”
“That’s very Will,” said his mother, Laura Lewis. “He’ll see an empty parcel and tell me what he thinks the best use for that is, what they should build there.”
Frankenfeld said, for example, that he wished there’d been housing put in instead of the Long Beach Exchange at Douglas Park or the new development going up at 2nd and PCH.
“Right now we have a massive shortage of housing and a massive oversupply of retail and office space,” said Frankenfeld.
It’s understandable that Lewis’ voice bursts with pride when she talks about her son. After all, he’s already made history and he’s earned scholarship offers to programs like Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton. But when she sounds proudest is when she talks about the job her son has done navigating some difficult family times and making something positive out of the experience.
“He’s done a great job,” she said. “He’s been able to realize that it doesn’t reflect on him, that he’s his own person.”
Frankenfeld is hoping to keep forging his own legacy, too. He and his teammates are running at the CIF State Finals this weekend (they’re ranked No. 6) and then he’ll return for the Foot Locker Regionals at Mt. SAC the following weekend, looking to become the first Long Beach runner to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals.
There’s only a few things left on his “unfinished business” list, and nobody finishes like Frankenfeld.