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No Fish Out of Water, Nicolette Viray Wins

Girls' cross-country: City swimming champion from Granada Hills surprises Northwest Valley field and her twin is ninth.


WOODLAND HILLS — Twins Nicolette and Claudette Viray of Granada Hills High are in their first season of cross-country and admittedly know little about running, but that hasn't prevented the juniors from excelling in their secondary sport.

The Virays, who helped Granada Hills win its fourth consecutive City Section swimming and diving title in May, placed first and ninth in the Northwest Valley Conference Classic at Pierce College on Wednesday.

Nicolette, City champion in the 200-yard freestyle, clocked 19:28 over the three-mile course and Claudette timed 21:20.

Nicolette's victory came against a solid field that included seniors Tiffany Burgess, Dina Melendez and Erika Dolezal of Birmingham.

Burgess won the 800 and 1,600 meters in the City track and field championships in May, Dolezal placed seventh and Melendez finished ninth in the section cross-country final last November.

Yet Nicolette ran them down.

"I didn't even know I was winning the race," Nicolette said. "I knew I was up there, but I thought there were some other girls in front of me."

Her confusion was understandable because she crossed the finish line with some late-arriving runners from the Valley Pac-8 Conference race, which started about 12 minutes earlier.

Burgess, senior Jamie Newman of El Camino Real and junior Jamie Jones of Cleveland led the field through the first half-mile, but Jones dropped back and Newman dropped out of the race at about the mile mark.

Burgess, 1996 City cross-country champion, was in the lead by herself but figured it wouldn't last. "I knew someone was going to come after me," she said. "I knew it wasn't going to be that easy."

But it was Nicolette Viray who caught Burgess at the halfway point and opened a 10- to 15-yard lead.

"I really didn't feel like I ran that good of a race," Nicolette said. "I didn't feel good before the race. I felt kind of nauseous."

Said Claudette: "We only started running because we needed the cross-country class to fulfill our [physical education] credits. We thought we were going to be the slowest people."

That thought perished when Nicolette clocked 19:38 at Pierce in an intrasquad meet and timed 20:07 to win the Division II race of the Kenny Staub Invitational at Crescenta Valley Park on Saturday. Claudette ran 22:10 to place 17th in the Staub meet after missing the intrasquad meet because of sore ankles.

"Ankle problems are the thing they're having trouble with," said Gary Snyder, Granada Hills' cross-country and swimming coach.

"Their muscles and tendons are very flexible because of the swimming, but they're not used to the pounding from running."

Nicolette Viray overshadowed an impressive performance by defending City champion Birmingham, which placed five runners among the top seven finishers to defeat second-place Taft, 21-67.

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