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HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS' CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW : Agoura Needs Recharging in Drive for 4th State Title


In what must sound like the same old song, Agoura High girls' cross-country Coach Bill Duley said the Chargers are in jeopardy of being dethroned as the three-time state Division I champions.

Duley said the same thing the past two years, and each year Agoura won. But he appears to have a legitimate concern this season as the Nos. 3 and 4 runners from last year's team were lost to graduation, and it remains to be seen whether they can be replaced.

"I probably have more depth than I've ever had as far as sheer numbers go," Duley said. "But we have less talent on paper."

Agoura has a superb one-two punch in junior Amy Skieresz (second in last year's state championships) and senior Kay Nekota (fifth), but with Tiffany Burt (17th) having moved on to UC Irvine and Kristie Camp (23rd) at Arkansas, lack of depth could undo the Chargers--especially when they are pitted against a team such as Peninsula, which traditionally runs as a tightly bunched group near the front of the pack.

Agoura is the No. 1-ranked team in the state Division I preseason poll ahead of Peninsula, but Duley figures the Panthers should be favored.

"They are going to be a very, very, tough team," he said. "They have a lot of returning runners from last year and they're coming off a very good track season. . . . I'd like to think that we can have a top-five team at state if we run well."

Seniors Limor Berci (55th place), Alison Kaz (78th) and Carrie Malnekoff (108th) were the Chargers' Nos. 5-7 runners in last year's state championships, but those places will have to improve substantially if Agoura is going to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Division I title.

Duley lists seniors Ingrid Hemela and Melissa Fox, junior Vickie Greene, sophomore April Llewellyn and freshman Janet Hwang as potential top-five runners if Berci, Kaz or Malnekoff falter.

He has little to worry about in Skieresz and Nekota.

Skieresz is the top returning cross-country runner in the nation, having finished third as a sophomore last year in the Kinney national championships. Nekota has placed fourth (Division II), second and fifth in the last three state championships.

"Those two are extremely focused," Duley said. "Amy appears to be totally recovered from the (mononucleosis) and Kay is raring to go again."

Skieresz ran a personal best of 4 minutes 53.97 seconds in the 1,600 meters during track, but her season ended when she contracted mononucleosis before the Southern Section Masters Meet.

Nekota, who transferred to Agoura after her freshman year at Irvine Woodbridge High, felt burned out at the end of last year's cross-country season.

In order to recharge her competitive batteries, she took time off from running and played on Agoura's junior varsity basketball team before running 5:04.95 in the 1,600 and 11:11.35 in the 3,200 during track season.

"The break seems to have helped," Duley said. "She seems more serious than she was last year."

If Nekota runs well this season, a berth in the national championships is a possibility.

If Skieresz lives up to preseason expectations, a national title could be the result, although Duley wants her to avoid getting caught up in any national title hype.

"I just want her to train, race well and get her confidence back," he said. "Then we can talk about individual goals at the end of the season."


Thousand Oaks--As freshmen last year, Kim Mortensen, Tara Marsden and Patricia Gibby finished third, fourth and fifth in the Marmonte League finals behind Agoura's big two of Skieresz and Nekota.

As sophomores, they'll be the leaders of a team that could advance to the state Division I championships if 17th-year Coach Jack Farrell can come up with solid fourth and fifth runners.

Mortensen, who placed 16th in last year's state Division I championships and ran 11:05.46 in the 3,200 in track, and Marsden are coming off a solid summer of training, but Gibby's status is uncertain.

The sixth-place finisher in last year's Southern Section Division I cross-country championships, Gibby timed 5:09.78 in the 1,600 during track season before being hobbled by a knee injury that plagued her during the summer.

"She is a big question mark in terms of her health," Farrell said. "We're just going to have to wait and see what happens with her."

Junior Bridget Roy and senior Kelly Medlin are expected to be the Lancers' Nos. 4 and 5 runners, with junior Jamie Palmer and sophomores Cody Sorensen and Alison Feinstein contending for the Nos. 6 and 7 spots.

The Lancers are ranked eighth in the state Division I poll.

Buena--Although the Bulldogs always seem overlooked in the preseason polls, they have finished seventh or better in four consecutive Southern Section Division I championships.

Junior Amy Van Atta, who ran 5:12.45 in the 1,600 during track, will lead this year's team with seniors Theresa Decaen, Amarisa Hernandez and Jennifer Robinson giving Buena four experienced runners to go with a trio of talented freshmen.

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