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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | CROSS-COUNTRY

By Comparison, It's Academic at Highland

October 19, 2000|JOHN ORTEGA

When it comes to athletic talent, girls' cross-country Coach John Johnston of Highland High refuses to compare Cassie Ramirez to Andrea Neipp, a former Bulldog standout.

He says it's unfair to match any runner, no matter how promising, with Neipp, 1996 state Division II cross-country champion.

But when the discussion turns to performing well after being ineligible the previous season, Johnston sees plenty of similarities between Neipp and Ramirez.

Neipp finished third in the 1995 state Division I cross-country final, but was declared academically ineligible during the second half of the 1996 track season after her grade-point average dipped below 2.0.

Ramirez, a junior, won last year's Golden League title and placed 14th in the Southern Section Division I final in her first cross-country season. But she was academically ineligible during the second half of track season this year.

Neipp came back to win the state Division II title in cross-country, place third in the 3,200 in the state track championships and get As and Bs in the classroom as a senior. She was hampered by injuries during her career at Brigham Young.

Ramirez has produced three firsts, two seconds, a third and a sixth in her races this season--and has a 3.67 grade-point average.

"It was really frustrating," Ramirez said of being ineligible. "But it wasn't a surprise. I wasn't doing what I needed to in the classroom."

Like Neipp, Ramirez spread herself too thin with activities outside of school.

She was the Miss Latin America Club Queen in the Antelope Valley for the 1999-2000 school year and a volunteer at Antelope Valley Hospital.

She still volunteers at the hospital every Monday from 5-8 p.m. and attends monthly meetings in her position as the area supervisor for escorts, but she makes sure to set aside time for school work.

"We didn't worry about running," Johnston said when asked about how he dealt with Ramirez's ineligibility. "Academics became very important. . . . I usually get to school early and she would come by my classroom before school and do her homework or study."

The time away from running made Ramirez realize how much she enjoyed it and how she "wanted to come back with a vengeance" this season.

"This whole thing has made me realize that I have to reach for my goals and I can't let anything get in the way ," she said. "I have an opportunity [to earn a college scholarship] and a God-given talent [to run] and I shouldn't blow it and let that go to waste."

*

There is never a good time to be injured, but if sophomore Tim Hearst of Royal had to miss a few meets because of a sore left hip, the last two weeks have been the time to do it.

Royal, the No. 4-ranked team in the region, had a healthy Hearst for its two toughest Marmonte League meets of the season against No. 7 Newbury Park on Sept. 28 and versus No. 3 Thousand Oaks and host Moorpark on Oct. 4.

Hearst, who won both meets, didn't run in last week's race against Agoura or in Wednesday's contest against Simi Valley and Westlake, but the Highlanders won both meets without him.

*

The Burroughs boys' team will be bolstered by the return of Mike Navarro when the Indians compete in the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational on Saturday.

Navarro, a senior, didn't run in the Santa Clarita Valley Invitational at Castaic Lake on Saturday after spraining his left ankle in the second Foothill League meet of the season two days earlier.

Navarro, who was slowed by breathing difficulties at the end of last season, was in sixth place with about three-quarters of a mile left in the league meet.

But he turned his ankle while taking a turn at the base of a steep downhill and dropped out shortly thereafter.

*

The Santa Clara boys' team got a long-awaited victory over Nordhoff in the second Frontier League meet of the season last week, but Coach Debra Sharp was rather subdued after the Saints' 27-29 victory.

"It's not over," she said. "We're in a very close team race with them and it can go either way on any given day."

Nordhoff, nine-time defending league champion, defeated Santa Clara, 32-34, in the first league meet on Sept. 27.

The loss to Santa Clara was the Rangers' second in the last 29 league meets.

"Santa Clara ran extremely well," Nordhoff Coach Ken Reeves said via e-mail.

"So did we, they just ran [better]."

*

Oak Park will be a notable absentee from the Division IV boys' sweepstakes race of the Mt. SAC Invitational on Friday.

The Eagles are the No. 4-ranked Division IV team in the state, but they will bypass a race that will include No. 1 and defending state champion McFarland and No. 2 Piedmont.

"Because of the severity of the course and the pounding your body takes," Coach Kevin Smith said when asked why his team will not run.

"I know where we're at right now. I don't need to put our runners on that course to find out."

*

The Newbury Park coaching staff thought about not running in the Division III sweepstakes races at Mt. SAC on Friday because it would be the Panthers' second meet in three days.

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