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Before Taking on State Field, Stein Hopes to Conquer City


WOODLAND HILLS — Natalie Stein of North Hollywood High, who single-handedly earned some respect for City Section girls' cross-country three years ago, will be heavily favored to win her second individual title when the section championships are held today at Pierce College.

The meet starts at 8 a.m. with the girls' freshman-sophomore race. The girls' varsity race will be held at 9, followed by the boys' at 9:30.

Girls from the City had a dismal record in the state Division I final from 1988-96; only one of them placed among the top 30 finishers. But Stein placed 13th as a freshman in 1997.

She improved to eighth in 1998, but so did the competition in the City, as Valerie Flores of San Pedro finished sixth.

Flores, who is a freshman at UCLA, placed fifth in the state meet last year in a race in which Stein had a rare subpar performance and finished 43rd.

Stein appears ready for a top-five finish in the state championships at Woodward Park in Fresno next Saturday, but first she will try to lower her career best over Pierce's three-mile course for the third time this season.

Stein, who has won nine of 11 races, clocked 17:25 in the City preliminaries on Nov. 8 to cut 25 seconds off her previous best and move to second on the all-time course list behind Flores' 17:13 clocking in last year's City final.

The soft-spoken Stein appears capable of breaking Flores' record, based on her time of 17:24 over a Mt. San Antonio College layout that is much tougher than Pierce. But her goals are to win her second City title after consecutive runner-up finishes to Flores and to run her best time ever.

"It would be nice to get the course record, but that time is pretty fast," Stein said at the preliminaries.

Stein, who could win by more than a minute today, might be the only varsity winner from the San Fernando Valley.

Belmont is favored to win the boys' and girls' team titles and senior Raymundo Castillo of Belmont is tabbed to win the boys' individual title.

Castillo, fourth in the City final last year, ran 16:25 to finish 13th in his qualifying heat in the preliminaries, but he and his teammates used the race as a workout.

Many contenders, such as seniors Daniel Clements of Taft, Germain Ortiz of Monroe and Chris Wells-Anders of El Camino Real, expect Castillo to break 15 minutes today.

The Belmont boys are heavily favored to win their sixth consecutive title and 16th in 19 years, with Taft, Monroe and Birmingham battling for second place, the final qualifying spot for the state championships.

In the girls' meet, defending champion San Pedro and Birmingham should be the biggest challengers to Belmont, which is picked to win its first title since 1993.

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