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Prep Cross-Country Preview

Low Profile Doesn't Suit Nordhoff

September 12, 1996|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — After posting a stunning victory in the State Division III cross-country championships last year, the Nordhoff High girls' team won't be sneaking up on any opponent this year.

That has Ranger Coach Ken Reeves feeling a little uneasy.

Reeves, who is entering his 12th season at Nordhoff, likes to portray his teams as small-school Davids among large-school Goliaths, but that's going to be a hard sell this year.

The Rangers are ranked sixth in Harrier magazine's national preseason poll, and for good reason. Six of their top seven runners--including defending State Division III champion Elaine Canchola--are back from last year's squad that beat heavily favored Concord Clayton Valley in the State final.

"I've always said that it's easier to win than to repeat," Reeves said. "I don't want to be the favorite. I like being the underdog."

Clayton Valley was the No. 4-ranked team in the country entering the State championships last year, but unranked Nordhoff posted the third-fastest girls' team time ever on Fresno's Woodward Park course to defeat the Eagles, 42-53.

"The State meet last year was just one of those magical moments," Reeves said. "I could never have predicted that."

Nordhoff has dropped to Division IV this year as a result of the State championships expanding from four to five enrollment-based divisions, but that doesn't mean the Rangers aren't as good. On paper, they're better.

Canchola, a junior, sat out last track season to help care for her younger siblings and to take a break from the pressures of competition. But she's back and in better shape than she was a year ago.

So is the rest of a team that includes seniors Terrah Chapin and Bridie Hatch, and juniors Laurel Westbrook and Jenny Hunt.

Chapin placed sixth in the 1995 State championships and Hatch--a standout 300-meter hurdler in track--finished ninth.

"All the kids are in a little bit better shape than they were at this time last year," Reeves said. "And that scares me. I don't want to start out too fast. I like to improve as the season goes on."

Canyon and Louisville are the other defending state champions from the region.

The Cowboys and Royals posted large margins of victory to win the Division I and IV titles last year and both could have stronger teams this season. They won't be favored to repeat, however.

Canyon has been dropped to Division II, which includes Yucaipa, the No. 3-ranked team in the nation.

The Cowboys could move up to Division I if Coach Dave DeLong chooses, but Louisville doesn't have that option. The Royals remain in Division IV, which now includes Nordhoff.

Canyon will be paced by senior Julie Harris and sophomore Lauren Fleshman. They finished 10th and 13th in the State championships last year and both are coming off superb track seasons.

Louisville lost its top two runners--including state champion Shaluinn Fullove--to graduation, but junior Kelly Harrington and freshman Mariel Holcomb should give the Royals a potent 1-2 punch.

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