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For Birmingham, a Tough Loss Two Take

City cross-country: Without a pair of mainstays, Patriot boys finish fourth. Girls win second title in row.


WOODLAND HILLS — Some people doubt cross-country is truly a team sport.

Coach Scott King of Birmingham High has evidence to the contrary.

Exhibit No. 1 is the Patriots' showing in the City Section championships at Pierce College on Saturday after King moved up Aaron Chipix and Ronald Pena from the junior varsity to cover the loss of two runners--one ineligible, the other injured.

King expected Birmingham to compete for the boys' championship and advance to the state championship meet next Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno, but the Patriots finished fourth with 132 points behind Belmont (23), Garfield (89) and Bell (97).

The top two teams advance, plus the five fastest individuals in the top 12 from nonqualifying teams.

The Patriots won their second consecutive girls' title and third in four years. Birmingham scored 86 points to Belmont's 93 and North Hollywood's 97.

King devoted Thursday and Friday to reinvestigating the eligibility of junior Ruben Ruiz after receiving a tip from the L.A. Unified School District that Ruiz's legal guardian was not living at the same address, instead of preparing the boys' and girls' teams for Saturday.

Ruiz, City freshman-sophomore champion last season, transferred from Chatsworth four weeks ago after moving into the Birmingham attendance area.

King said he "was not satisfied" by the results of his investigation, so he declared Ruiz ineligible Friday.

"When there's other things going on, kids don't always handle them well," said King, who believes the time spent on Ruiz was a distraction.

Ryan Foss sat out because his strained calf muscle had not healed, although Foss competed for the last two weeks.

"[Ruiz] is the first front-runner we've had at this school in six years," King said. "We expected him to aggressively compete with the other runners and we thought our next four runners were better than anybody else's top five.

"I was confident enough to think we'd come in second without him."

Junior Valerie Flores of San Pedro reversed the results of the girls' meet last year by pulling away from defending champion Natalie Stein of North Hollywood in the final mile.

Flores covered the three-mile course in 17:53 and Stein clocked 18:04, while junior Isaura Rodriguez of Taft also earned a trip to Fresno with her 18:52 third-place finish.

Senior Tiffany Burgess, Birmingham's top finisher, was 10th in 19:43.

Senior Henry Briseno of Belmont, fifth in the City meet last year, clocked 15:04 to win the boys' individual title by holding off Andre Young of Marshall, who finished in 15:09.

Senior Juan Granados of Monroe was the top boys' performer from the region, finishing 16th in 16:14.

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