It's been a long time coming for Mike Smith. For five years, Smith, the cross-country coach at Camarillo High, watched helplessly as Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Newbury Park took turns winning the Marmonte League boys title.
"It was frustrating," Smith said. "Especially after coaching Eric Reynolds during his senior season."
Under Smith's guidance, Reynolds won both the Southern Section 4-A and the Kinney National cross-country titles in 1982.
As good as Reynolds was, however, Smith never had a team that could challenge for the league title.
With all seven runners returning to a team that took second in league and shocked a lot of teams--including Camarillo, with a third-place finish in last season's Southern Section 4-A cross-country championships, 1987 could be The Year of the Scorpions.
It could finally be the year Camarillo wins its first Marmonte League varsity cross-country title and may even be the year the Scorpions win their first Southern Section 4-A cross-country title.
Camarillo, along with 1986 runner-up Palos Verdes and fourth-place Corona del Mar, is one of three preseason favorites for the 4-A title.
"They're going to be very tough," Thousand Oaks Coach Jack Farrell said of Camarillo. "They return their entire team and last year's success is really going to help their confidence."
Camarillo's stable of runners is led by sophomore Shawn Goetzinger (10th in the Southern Section championships) and senior Erik Counseller (11th). It has also been bolstered by the addition of transfers Abe Valdez from Rio Mesa and John Schnell from Texas.
Valdez, a sophomore, ran 9 minutes, 51.7 seconds for 3,200 meters during the track season and Schnell, a junior, has run 2:01 for 800 meters.
Smith, 35, however, is taking nothing for granted.
"Our first goal is to win league and take it from there," he said. "If we can win our league championship, we feel we'll have a lot of momentum going into the postseason meets such as the CIF championships and hopefully, the state meet."
The Camarillo team, which Smith describes as, "a quiet, introverted group of studious kids who aren't real rah-rah about running," shows even more zeal than the coach.
"We want to win CIF and we want to win state," said Goetzinger, who ran 9:34.6 for 3,200 meters last track season.
Added Counseller, who has run 4:29 for 1,600 meters and 9:40.8 for 3,200.: "We're hoping we can go to state. We really want to win the 4-A this season. It's my senior season so I'd like to go out on top."
For the first time, there is another mountain to climb for runners: a state cross-country championship will be held.
The five fastest teams from the Southern Section in three divisions (large, medium and small schools) will qualify for the championships at Fresno's Woodward Park.
"It adds a lot of prestige to the sport," Smith said. "It's been long overdue. The kids are really excited about it."
Said Goetzinger: "We're confident but we don't think it's going to be easy. We know what we have to do."
Besides Goetzinger, Counseller, Valdez and Schnell, the team includes seniors Sean Faye and Keith Thomas, junior Matt Aukstkalnis, and sophomores Chad Malesich and Joel Gonzalez.
Malesich, Camarillo's third man last season, will battle Valdez for that position. Faye and Aukstkalnis should vie for the fifth-man position.
"Last year was easy because we were the Cinderella team," Smith said.
This year, however, much is expected of the Scorpions, whose quiet nature puzzles Smith.
"Sometimes they're so quiet before a race that I wonder if they're fired up enough," he said. "But they get out there and run well so I guess I shouldn't worry about it."
"We are quiet as a group," he said. "That's because we know what has to be done. We don't feel like we have to boast about it though."
What about this year's increased expectations?
"If anything, I feel less pressure," he said. "We weren't sure of ourselves last year and that put more pressure on ourselves. This year everyone knows what has to be done."
Smith has waited a long time to hear that.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH
NEWBURY PARK: The Panthers, who placed sixth in the 1986 Southern Section 4-A championships, are ranked sixth in the Southern Section preseason poll. Six of their top seven runners return, including Mike Esparza, who placed third in last year's 4-A championships as a sophomore and ran 9:26.5 for 3,200 meters in track.
Matt Guetschoff, who has run 4:28.3 for 1,600 meters, will be the No. 2 man and Chris Harris and Steve Garcia will battle for the No. 3 spot. Sophomore Eric Guetschoff (Matt's brother) and junior Greg Longaker will vie for the fifth position.
"We have to develop a solid fourth and fifth man," said Coach Mike Stewart, who is beginning his 14th season. "That's what hurt us last year."
CANYON: The Cowboys are the most improved team in the Valley area. Ranked 10th in the preseason 4-A poll, six of their top seven runners return, including junior Mike Rattary, the defending Golden League champion.