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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Born to Run

Deneeka Torrey's Mother, a High School Sprinter, Says Taft Standout Has Been on the Move Her Entire Life

May 25, 2000|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Deneeka Torrey.

Erin Reed.

Schquay Brignac.

One has to mention all three names when talking about Taft High's chances at winning its third consecutive girls' title in the City Section track and field championships at Birmingham today.

But no one signifies the excellence of the Toreadors the last four years more than Torrey.

Reed transferred to Taft from Tamalpais High in Mill Valley in 1998 and Brignac transferred from Cleveland last fall, but Torrey has been a Toreador since her first day of high school.

Torrey lost Taft's lead to Dorsey in the final 50 meters of the 1,600-meter relay in 1997 City final. But Torrey accounted for 17 of the Toreadors' record 112 points in 1998 and won the 100 high hurdles and 300 lows, placed second in the 100 and ran the anchor leg on the victorious 1,600 relay team last year when Taft came from behind to defeat Birmingham, 82-78.

"It's going to be depressing when she's gone," said Taft assistant Neil Boggess. "I've been coaching track since 1987 and I've never worked with someone who's been more coachable. She's just been a joy to work with. She doesn't complain, she shows up for practice every day and she gets down to business on the track."

When asked about Boggess' comments, Torrey smiled and said, "He's the coach so he knows his running."

Vickie Torrey, Deneeka's mother, deserves much of the credit for that refreshing attitude. She taught her only child to "respect your elders at all times and to respect yourself as well."

Deneeka was born in Jackson, Miss., and moved to Encino in the summer of 1996.

She did not compete in organized athletics until she ran cross-country in the seventh grade, but Vickie said she ran everywhere as a child, whether it was from her bedroom to the kitchen, from the living room to the dining room or from the front yard to the back yard.

"My mom would come over and watch her and say, 'Does she ever walk?' " Vickie said. " 'I don't know if I've ever seen her walk.' "

Vickie Torrey, a sprinter in high school, figured Deneeka was talented enough to one day earn a college scholarship in track, but she didn't see that happening in Mississippi, where "girls' sports didn't get a lot of respect."

So after conducting research, Vickie decided California was the place to be and Taft was the school to attend.

Deneeka wasn't so sure.

She was terribly homesick and begged her mother to stay by her side during her first day at Taft.

"She didn't want me to go," Vickie said. "I think I left after lunch and I remember I cried the whole way home. I remember thinking, 'Please let her make some friends.' If she does that, she'll feel comfortable. And if she feels comfortable, she'll be fine."

Torrey, who has signed with Colorado, didn't make a big splash on the track team as a freshman because the Toreadors were loaded with talented individuals such as Eboni Grayson, Jayda Bailey, Frances Santin and Tiffany Smith. But she came into her own as a sophomore, finishing third in the 100 and in the 300 hurdles in the City championships and running legs on the victorious 400 and 1,600 relay teams.

Torrey had never run the hurdles, but Boggess introduced her to the lows in 1998 and added the highs to her list of events last year.

"I was scared," Torrey said when asked about her first impression of the hurdles. "I thought he had me doing something just to be doing it."

Boggess was grooming Torrey to be Santin's successor and she made him look like a genius when she set a school record of 14.43 in the high hurdles last year and ran a career best of 43.74 in the lows. She finished sixth in the high hurdles and seventh in the lows in the state meet.

She zipped to a 13.99 clocking to win the Mt. San Antonio Relays in Walnut on April 15, but the 43.74 remained her best until the City preliminaries last week where she ran 42.79 to narrowly miss Santin's school record of 42.63 and move into a tie for fifth on the all-time region list.

"I was surprised," Torrey said of her time. "It didn't feel that fast."

Torrey, Reed and Brignac are expected to lead Taft to the team championship ahead of West Valley League rivals Birmingham and Cleveland today.

Torrey is favored to win the hurdles and could finish among the top three in the 100.

Reed is tabbed to win the 400 and finish second behind defending champion Alexis Weatherspoon of Grant in the 100 and 200.

Brignac is favored to win the high jump for the third consecutive year and be a contender in the long jump and triple jump.

Those three will team with Zoiah Koushki on the 1,600 relay team that is projected to finish fourth.

Birmingham will be led by two-time defending champion Melissa Astete in the pole vault and by sisters Gigi and Vincetta Mendola in the sprints and relays.

Cleveland will be led by shotputter Jessica Cosby--who is trying to become the first athlete to win four City titles in the same event--hurdler Brynne Steward and sprinters Malinda Malone and Michelle Stinnette.

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