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High Schools | FALL PREVIEW: GIRLS' CROSS-COUNTRY

Depth Charge

New coach inherits talent, expectations

September 09, 2002|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His coaching resume is relatively skimpy, but Andy Sims feels right at home in his first year at the helm of the nationally ranked girls' cross-country team at Dana Point Dana Hills High.

Sims, 36, set a Dana Hills record of 1 minute 51.42 seconds in the 800 meters while finishing third in the 1984 state track and field championships. But he had not coached cross-country until last year, when he was an assistant under longtime Dana Hills boys' coach Tim Butler.

"When I graduated from college, I had no intention of ever being a teacher or a coach," said Sims, who ran 1:50.00 in the 800 for UCLA. "But teaching and coaching have become two things that I'm into."

Sims entered the advertising field after graduating from UCLA with an economics degree, but soon was teaching social studies at Van Nuys Montclair Prep. He taught at the small private school for 10 years, but jumped at the opportunity last year to return to his alma mater as a teacher and coach.

"I definitely came back here with the idea that I would coach," said Sims, who was offered the job after Beth Niednagel stepped down.

Sims, who has three assistant coaches, inherited an immensely talented team. The Dolphins are ranked fourth in Harrier magazine's national preseason poll and return their top seven runners from last year's squad that won the Southern Section Division I title and finished second in the state championships.

"I wouldn't call it a curse, but I would definitely call it a double-edged sword," Sims said about taking over the team.

"The pressure is there because people out there are expecting big things of you. But you have to always keep your perspective and realize that these are high school-age girls you're dealing with."

Junior Shaun Yourd was Dana Hills' top runner in the state championships last year with an 18th-place finish. But Sims lists junior Monika Rothenburger and senior Tarrah Crowley as his top runners right now.

Rothenburger, Dana Hills' No. 2 finisher in the state meet last year, ran a team-leading 5:05.85 in the 1,600 during track season.

Crowley was the Dolphins' No. 4 runner in the state championships, despite battling injuries for much of the season. Seniors Emilie Branham and Stephanie Eckl and sophomore Marijke Van Pelt placed 49th, 57th and 55th, respectively, in the state championships. But they aren't guaranteed one of the seven spots on the varsity team this year because Dana Hills has so much depth.

"There's two or three others you could put out there right now and they could contend for a top-seven position," Sims said. "It's just a very balanced team."

That balance has made Dana Hills a heavy favorite to win its first Division I title when the state championships are held Nov. 30 at Fresno.

But Sims isn't assuming anything, not after seeing Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula upset Dana Hills, 150-158, in the Division I final last year.

"Neither the coaches nor the girls are in the mind-set that we can take things for granted," he said.

"Winning a state championship is seen as a goal and something that is attainable, but it's not an expectation."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES' RANKINGS

A preseason look at the top 10 girls' cross-country teams in the Southland:

1. Dana Hills (SS-Division I)

Andy Sims has the No. 4-ranked team in Harrier magazine's national preseason poll.

2. Sultana (SS-Division II)

Sultans figure they can give Escondido San Pasqual a run for the state Division II title.

3. Murrieta Valley (SS-Division I)

Nighthawks should be among the top teams in the state if junior Liza Pasciuto can avoid the mishaps that plagued her at the end of last year.

4. Ayala (SS-Division I)

Bulldogs return top seven runners from team that placed fifth in state championships.

5. Royal (SS-Division I)

Top six runners return for a Highlander team that finished sixth in state championships.

6. Peninsula (SS-Division I)

Emily Vince has graduated and Coach Joe Kelly has retired, but the two-time defending state champions remain formidable.

7. Thousand Oaks (SS-Division I)

Lancers have top three runners back from team that placed third in state championships.

8. Fountain Valley (SS-Division I)

Bethany Nickless is coming off breakthrough track season for team that finished seventh in state.

9. Oak Park (SS-Division IV)

Eagles won their first state title last year with two juniors, four sophomores and a freshman.

10. Marina (SS-Division I)

Junior Anna Attard could lead Vikings to a second consecutive berth in the state championships.

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