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Prep Cross-Country Review

Newbury Park Takes Run at Goals


NEWBURY PARK — One drought down. Two to go.

That could sum up the thinking of Newbury Park High boys' cross-country Coach Mike Stewart as the season begins.

Stewart, entering his 23rd season at the school, guided the boys' track team to a share of its first-ever Marmonte League title in May.

He'd like to follow that with the Panthers' first Ventura County cross-country title since 1983 and their first berth in the State Division III championships since 1991.

Both goals appear attainable as five of Newbury Park's top six runners return from a team that tied Thousand Oaks for the Marmonte League title last year and placed fifth in the Ventura County and Southern Section Division III championships.

From that experience has come a more determined and dedicated work ethic, Stewart said.

Last year's team was woefully out of shape at the start of the season, but the Panthers are coming off a solid summer of training.

"We had a much better summer," Stewart said. "I think a lot of these guys learned their lesson."

Seniors Ross Wood and Mitch Beck and sophomore Pat Dolan are expected to be Newbury Park's top three runners.

The trio placed third, 11th and 10th in the Marmonte League finals last year, and Wood has been impressive in workouts.

"The guy is just cranking off road runs at a real good pace and he's not hurting when he's doing it," Stewart said.

"He ran 7 1/2 miles at [an average pace of 5 minutes 45 seconds per mile] the other day and it looked easy."

Seniors Jeff Malch and Trevor Szafraniec, 25th and 30th in the league finals, are the Panthers' projected fourth and fifth runners, but they could be pushed by junior Robert Esparza and senior Zack Plaut.

Plaut was expected to contend for a top-five spot last year, but he missed the season after suffering a concussion in a bizarre training accident.

Plaut was hit on the head by a camper shell that flew off a truck that spun off the road while he was running.

"He's one of those guys you don't want to stand next to in a electrical storm," Stewart said. "Every year it seems like something else happens to him."

Despite its experience, Newbury Park is not heavily favored to win the Ventura County title.

Stewart says Rio Mesa should be favored and defending champion Nordhoff cannot be counted out, even though the Rangers lost three of their top five runners to graduation.

Rio Mesa surprised a lot of people by finishing fourth behind Nordhoff, Thousand Oaks and Buena in the county meet last year. Six of the Spartans' top seven runners are back, led by seniors Ronald Almaguer and Scott Johnsen.

Almaguer placed seventh and Johnsen was eighth in the county meet and are the Nos. 4 and 5 returning finishers.

Victor Ochoa finished fourth and Dusty Herman was 11th for Nordhoff in the county meet last year as sophomores, and later placed 11th and eighth in the State Division III championships as the Rangers won their third consecutive title.

Ochoa ran 9 minutes 29.81 seconds in the 3,200 meters in track and Nordhoff Coach Ken Reeves says he's in great shape.

"I expect a big year out of Victor," he said. "He looks like he could be in for a really, really good season."

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