WALNUT — When he runs well, the Thousand Oaks High boys' cross-country team is a great squad.
When he runs so-so, the Lancers are merely very good.
Kevin Marsden is the unpredictable member of an otherwise consistent Thousand Oaks team that is favored to win its third consecutive Division I title in today's Southern Section championships at Mt. San Antonio College.
The meet will begin with the Division I boys' race at 8 a.m.
Marsden, a senior, placed fifth in last year's State Division I championships, but has yet to regain that form after missing the first two meets of the season with a back injury.
Since his return, he has been on a performance roller coaster.
He was the Lancers' No. 2 runner in the Southwestern University (Tex.) Invitational on Oct. 1 and their No. 3 scorer in the Mt. SAC Invitational three weeks later. However, he dropped to fifth in the Ventura County championships (Oct. 28) and the Marmonte League finals (Nov. 4) before finishing third behind teammates Keith O'Doherty and Jeff Fischer in a heat of the section preliminaries last week.
"Kevin is our swing guy," Coach Jack Farrell said. "When he swings back toward (fourth- and fifth-runners Todd Disney and Josh Carolan), we're a good team, but when he swings toward Keith and Jeff, we're very, very tough. . . . My hope is that one of these races, he and Jeff will swing right up to Keith. If that happens, we have a chance to be the greatest team in state history."
The 1993 Lancer squad was regarded by some experts as the best team in California in more than 20 years, but this year's edition could be better.
The Lancers' top five runners cruised to a cumulative team time of 78 minutes 32 seconds in the prelims and their 77:56 course record set in last year's section finals appears within reach.
"I just hope we get good weather for the finals," Farrell said. "If we do and everyone is healthy, it'll be interesting to see how fast we can run."
While the Thousand Oaks boys will be the toughest team, several competitors from the region will contend for individual or team titles. Eleazar Hernandez of Camarillo, Brett Strahan of Hart, O'Doherty and Adalberto Sanchez of Capistrano Valley are expected to contend for the Division I individual title.
Hernandez ran 15:02 to win the team sweepstakes race in the prestigious Mt. SAC Invitational, but Sanchez posted the fastest time (15:08) in the prelims, followed by Strahan (15:13), O'Doherty (15:17) and Hernandez (15:19).
Palmdale, led by individual favorite Antonio Arce, should battle Mater Dei for the Division II boys' team title. Agoura's John Greene, the defending Division II champion, and Temple City's James Liu, the individual sweepstakes winner at Mt. SAC, should give Arce his toughest competition.
The tightest team battle of the meet could be waged in the Division III boys' race as defending State champion Nordhoff, St. Francis, El Modena, La Habra, San Marino and Corona del Mar all appear capable of winning.
Nordhoff's Javier Ramirez is favored to win his second consecutive individual title.
Amy Skieresz of Agoura and Thousand Oaks head the list of local performers in the girls' meet.
Skieresz, the defending State Division I champion, is heavily favored to win her third consecutive title in the Division II race. She finished a distant third in the individual sweepstakes race of the Mt. SAC Invitational, but followed that with victories in the Ventura County and Marmonte League championships before posting the fastest time (17:45) in the prelims.
Thousand Oaks, led by junior Kim Mortensen, is tabbed to win the Division I title with defending State champion Irvine, El Toro and Esperanza its closest competition.
Esperanza's Courtney Pugmire, who ran 18:12 in the prelims, Mortensen (18:25) and Irvine's Jessica Corbin (18:33) are expected to vie for the individual title.
"It'll be interesting to see how fast Kim runs when she's in a race where she's pushed for the entire distance," Farrell said. "She's run some good times behind Amy this season, but she's always been by herself in that gap between first and third."
The Division III girls' race will feature the top two freshmen in the section. Heather Garritson of Buena Park ran 17:49 to win the Division III sweepstakes race in the Mt. SAC Invitational and Elaine Canchola of team favorite Nordhoff timed 17:53 in last week's prelims.
Shaluinn Fullove of Louisville is a slight favorite to defeat Mission League rival Melissa MacPherson of Flintridge Sacred Heart in the Division IV race.
The top four teams in each race and the top five individuals not on a qualifying team will advance to the State championships in Fresno on Nov. 26.