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COURTESY OF BARTELLO FAMILY
Laguna Hills distance stars and twins Marissa, left, and Brianna Bartello placed second and fourth in their respective events at the prestigious New York Relays in April.

Bartello twins found success off the screen and on the track

STAFF WRITER

The exciting and quite successful running careers of the Bartello twins, Laguna Hills track stars Brianna and Marissa, began in an unusual place.

Hollywood.

They weren’t even a year old when they made their film debut playing one baby in a kids show, “Big Bad Beetleborgs.” Think “Power Rangers,” only younger.

“I was the happy baby,” Brianna said laughing while sister Marissa smiled. “Marissa was the crying baby.”

They both had bit parts in several TV series, including “The Mentalist” and “Big Love,” but it was in “The Middle,” the ABC sitcom about a whacky middle class, middle-America family, where they first put on track shoes. They played teammates of the sitcom’s daughter in a handful of episodes.

And thus, two athletic careers were born. After playing soccer for eight years together, Brianna bowed out of the sport because of concussion concerns. Her sister did likewise in support and they went looking for a new sport.

“Something without balls,” Brianna said.

They joined the cross country and track teams at Laguna Hills, and have been at the front of their distance events ever since.

Brianna has been ranked in the national top 100 the last two seasons in four events - the 800 meters (2:15.70), mile (5:02.93), 1,600 (5:01.03) and 3,200 (11:09.08). Marissa, who is three minutes older, has been ranked in the 3,200 (10:49.48) and 2,000-meter steeplechase (7:09.89).

In 2014, Brianna won the CIF-SS Division 3 cross country title (17:17) and Marissa was fourth (17:50), and went on to finish fourth and sixth, respectively, at the CIF State meet. They both finished in the top 10 in 2013.

In the 2014 track season, Brianna was third in the Division 3 1,500 and Marissa fourth in the 3,200. In the recent Orange County Championships, Marissa won the 1,600 title and Brianna was third in the 800.

At New York Relays last month, Marissa finished second in the steeplechase and Brianna fourth in the Dream Mile. They’re contenders for titles and medals at a series of championship meets the next seven weeks, including the CIF-SS and CIF State meets and two major invitationals.

“I don’t know if we thought we would love running and competing as much as we do.” Marissa said. “It’s really been a wonderful thing.”

“As a freshman, I thought it would be a great way to get started in school activities and make friends,” said Brianna. “By our sophomore year, the team had become like a family.”

Laguna Hills cross country coach Christopher Lynch, a former CIF champion for his alma mater and a standout at UCLA for legendary coach Bob Larsen, went into coaching after college and has been at the school since 1997.

“The first year in the program, I knew they would become very good runners,” he said. “They were having fun, but they also showed a lot of focus and dedication.

“They’re physically different even if they can run the same events and produce similar times. I like to say Brianna is a Corvette, because she has great speed, and Marissa is a Jeep. She’ll run over and through things.”

The twins’ running success led them to leave acting behind.

“We liked it,” Marissa said. “Our parents started us in it, but we actually wanted to continue it more than our parents because it was a lot of fun.”

“But it was difficult fitting it into high school,” Brianna said. “There would be calls to spend three days on a show, which is missing a lot of school and practice, and we really enjoyed cross country. Maybe we’ll pick it up again after college.”

Like most runners, the twins are starting to whittle down their schedule to their best events, Brianna plans to run the 800 and 1,600 but may drop the 800 after the CIF-SS meet so she can concentrate on the metric mile, the 1,500-meter run. Marissa will likely compete in the 3,200 and the steeplechase; the latter has become her favorite event.

Then it’s off to college, and not surprisingly, together. They were recruited by numerous Division I schools but wanted to attend a Christian-based college.

They decided to follow their sister, Daniell, to Point Loma Nazarene University, a small campus of around 3,000 in San Diego that is a Division II school that competes in many meets with Division I schools.

“The school has a great atmosphere, and we wanted to stay rooted to where we grew up,” Marissa said.

“I think it’s a great choice,” Lynch said. “It’s a quality program and they’ll get their chance to compete in all of the major meets.”

If they develop into great college runners, they will join some other notable twins in sports, including tennis’ Mike and Bob Bryan, skiers Steve and Phil Mahre, and the Collins and Lopez twins in the NBA.

They’re definitely on the right pace, and as history shows, they do have the background to someday star in their own movie.

Contact the writer: bkeisser@lbregister.com


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