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HIGH SCHOOL CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW

Path to State Meet Gets Tougher

Move to Division IV presents challenge to strong St. Bonaventure, Oak Park boys' teams.

September 03, 1997|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The boys' cross-country teams at St. Bonventure and Oak Park high schools could be the best in their respective histories, but the odds are against them matching their finish of last year in the state championships.

In fact, they're expected to have a more difficult time qualifying for the Nov. 29 meet at Fresno's Woodward Park.

That's because St. Bonaventure and Oak Park are among several schools that will run at the Division IV level after competing in Division V last year.

This summer the California Interscholastic Federation restructured the enrollment numbers that determine which schools compete in the state's five divisions.

Although the CIF changed the enrollment numbers for every division in an attempt to better balance competition, the impact was heaviest at the lower levels.

McFarland, Holtville, St. Bonaventure and Oak Park, the top four teams in the 1996 state Division V boys' championships, will compete at the Division IV level.

McFarland, the Division IV champion from 1992-95, should have an easier time getting back to the state meet than either St. Bonaventure or Oak Park, which must place among the top four teams in the Southern Section championships Nov. 22 to qualify.

But coaches Glen Hackworth of St. Bonaventure and Kevin Smith of Oak Park are not complaining about their teams' plights.

"We're looking forward to the challenge," Hackworth said of competing against such Southern Section powers as Nordhoff and Morro Bay. "If we do well, that's great. If we don't, it's time to go to the working table and work some things out."

Smith would have liked to compete at the Division V level again, but he figured Oak Park's increasing enrollment would have placed the Eagles in the old Division IV level by next year anyway.

"I really believe this is going to make us a better team in the next seven or eight years," Smith said of the move. "We're going to be running against some great competition [at the section championships]. Nordhoff has had one of the best programs in the state over the past five or 10 years and [Isaiah Festa of Morro Bay] could be the best runner in the state this year."

St. Bonaventure, led by seniors Matthew Torres and Fritz Knoll, returns all seven runners. Oak Park, paced by seniors Steve Martin and Brian Armstrong, has six of its top seven back.

But both teams could be chasing defending champion Nordhoff, Morro Bay and Notre Dame in the section championships.

Nordhoff, the state Division III champion from 1993-95, features seniors Dusty Herman and Victor Ochoa, the region's best 1-2 punch.

Notre Dame doesn't have a tandem as talented as Herman and Ochoa, but junior Kevin Lelles leads six runners from last year's team that finished sixth in the section championships.

"We could have nine or 10 guys battling for seven spots," said Notre Dame Coach Bob Macias, starting his eighth season. "This is the best team I've had since I've been here."

Nordhoff, Morro Bay, Notre Dame and San Marino are ranked first through fourth in the Division IV preseason poll, but fifth-ranked St. Bonaventure doesn't appear to be intimidated.

"Right after the state meet, we set a goal of winning state and we haven't changed that," Hackworth said.

Other region teams to watch:

Thousand Oaks--The defending Ventura County champion Lancers lost two of their top three runners to graduation, but several talented competitors return.

Seniors Danny Kilgore--who has run 9:35.39 in the 3,200 meters--Jason Liu and Marc Garelick, junior Brian Moncrief and sophomore Seth Neumuller are all returning letterman.

Hoover--David Lopez, 13th in the 1996 national championships, has moved on to the University of Arizona, but the Tornadoes still have a potent duo in seniors Isabel Casillas and Jamal Balouch, 22nd and 37th in last year's state Division I championships.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Flintridge Prep senior Doug Hall placed third and fifth in the Division V races of last year's Southern Section and state cross-country championships. In track, he clocked 4:21.92 in the 1,600 meters and was the runner-up in the section Division IV finals. . . . Aaron Sharp of Santa Clara should be one of the top runners in Ventura County after finishing seventh in the Southern Section Division V championships as a junior and clocking 9:37.49 in the 3,200 in track. . . . Senior David Friedman of Taft is the top returning local runner in the City Section, having placed fifth in last year's section finals and 50th in the state Division I championships.

* THE PROMISING: Senior Ryan Meuse of Simi Valley has been the region's top 800 runner the last two years and could develop into a standout in cross-country.

* FAST FACT: Runners from the region have won four individual titles, placed second five times and finished third three times in the state Division I championships since the meet began in 1987.

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