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Ruiz Right at Home in Front, Helps Birmingham Win Title

Cross-country: One week after transferring from Chatsworth, he wins Northwest Valley Conference final.


WOODLAND HILLS — It took seven days of school and two races, but junior Ruben Ruiz is starting to feel at home on the Birmingham High boys' cross-country team.

Ruiz, 1997 City Section freshman-sophomore champion for Chatsworth, transferred to Birmingham on Oct. 27 after moving into the school's attendance district.

His first victory for the Patriots came in a meet against Chatsworth last week, but it wasn't until he won the Northwest Valley Conference final Wednesday at Pierce College that he felt like he belonged.

"I feel better today than last week," Ruiz said. "Last week, I felt bad for the Chatsworth runners because I was running against guys who had been my teammates."

Ruiz clocked 16:14 over the three-mile course to help Birmingham take five of the top seven places and post a 19-77 victory over runner-up Taft.

The Patriots collected their 10th consecutive conference title and fifth Northwest Valley championship in a row since moving from the Valley Pac-8.

Running with a distinctive short, bowlegged stride, Ruiz took the early lead and extended it to 37 seconds over junior teammate Martin Regalado at the finish.

"I was trying to break my time of 16:04 from two weeks ago," Ruiz said. "I wanted to run faster this week, but I think it's harder to run fast when you're running by yourself. I feel like I can run a lot faster if someone is with me or in front of me."

Sophomore Lino Ortiz was Birmingham's No. 3 runner in fourth at 16:58, followed by senior Alfredo Murillo in fifth at 17:01 and junior Mateo Gonzalez in seventh at 17:13.

Birmingham struggled by its standards in the girls' race, but the defending City champion Patriots posted a 32-60 victory over second-place Taft.

Senior Dina Melendez placed second in 19:07 for Birmingham and senior Tiffany Burgess was third in 19:41.

Senior Jamie Newman of El Camino Real, City champion as a freshman, didn't run after being slowed by an ankle injury for much of the season.

She hopes to return for track in the spring.

Melendez, Burgess, junior Nicolette Viray of Granada Hills and junior Isaura Rodriguez of Taft comprised the lead pack for the first mile, but Viray broke away from her pursuers shortly thereafter to finish first in 18:44.

Viray smashed her previous best of 19:11 at Pierce and became a contender in the City championships on Nov. 21.

Yet the defending City swimming champion in the 200-yard freestyle says she's trying not to worry about specific times in her first cross-country season.

"I just wanted to go out and do my best." Viray said. "[Running] is just for fun."

Sophomore Natalie Stein of North Hollywood and senior Juan Granados of Monroe won Valley Pac-8 Conference titles to lead their respective teams to victory.

Stein, defending City champion, clocked 18:13 in the girls' race and Granados ran 16:22 in the boys' final.

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