It's been a long time coming for Mike Smith. For five years, Smith, the cross-country coach at Camarillo High, watched helplessly as Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Newbury Park took turns winning the Marmonte League boys title.
"It was frustrating," Smith said. "Especially after coaching Eric Reynolds during his senior season."
Under Smith's guidance, Reynolds won both the Southern Section 4-A and the Kinney National cross-country titles in 1982.
As good as Reynolds was, however, Smith never had a team that could challenge for the league title.
With all seven runners returning to a team that took second in league and shocked a lot of teams--including Camarillo, with a third-place finish in last season's Southern Section 4-A cross-country championships, 1987 could be The Year of the Scorpions.
It could finally be the year Camarillo wins its first Marmonte League varsity cross-country title and may even be the year the Scorpions win their first Southern Section 4-A cross-country title.
Camarillo, along with 1986 runner-up Palos Verdes and fourth-place Corona del Mar, is one of three preseason favorites for the 4-A title.
"They're going to be very tough," Thousand Oaks Coach Jack Farrell said of Camarillo. "They return their entire team and last year's success is really going to help their confidence."
Camarillo's stable of runners is led by sophomore Shawn Goetzinger (10th in the Southern Section championships) and senior Erik Counseller (11th). It has also been bolstered by the addition of transfers Abe Valdez from Rio Mesa and John Schnell from Texas.
Valdez, a sophomore, ran 9 minutes, 51.7 seconds for 3,200 meters during the track season and Schnell, a junior, has run 2:01 for 800 meters.
Smith, 35, however, is taking nothing for granted.
"Our first goal is to win league and take it from there," he said. "If we can win our league championship, we feel we'll have a lot of momentum going into the postseason meets such as the CIF championships and hopefully, the state meet."
The Camarillo team, which Smith describes as, "a quiet, introverted group of studious kids who aren't real rah-rah about running," shows even more zeal than the coach.
"We want to win CIF and we want to win state," said Goetzinger, who ran 9:34.6 for 3,200 meters last track season.
Added Counseller, who has run 4:29 for 1,600 meters and 9:40.8 for 3,200.: "We're hoping we can go to state. We really want to win the 4-A this season. It's my senior season so I'd like to go out on top."
For the first time, there is another mountain to climb for runners: a state cross-country championship will be held.
The five fastest teams from the Southern Section in three divisions (large, medium and small schools) will qualify for the championships at Fresno's Woodward Park.
"It adds a lot of prestige to the sport," Smith said. "It's been long overdue. The kids are really excited about it."
Said Goetzinger: "We're confident but we don't think it's going to be easy. We know what we have to do."
Besides Goetzinger, Counseller, Valdez and Schnell, the team includes seniors Sean Faye and Keith Thomas, junior Matt Aukstkalnis, and sophomores Chad Malesich and Joel Gonzalez.
Malesich, Camarillo's third man last season, will battle Valdez for that position. Faye and Aukstkalnis should vie for the fifth-man position.
"Last year was easy because we were the Cinderella team," Smith said.
This year, however, much is expected of the Scorpions, whose quiet nature puzzles Smith.
"Sometimes they're so quiet before a race that I wonder if they're fired up enough," he said. "But they get out there and run well so I guess I shouldn't worry about it."
"We are quiet as a group," he said. "That's because we know what has to be done. We don't feel like we have to boast about it though."
What about this year's increased expectations?
"If anything, I feel less pressure," he said. "We weren't sure of ourselves last year and that put more pressure on ourselves. This year everyone knows what has to be done."
Smith has waited a long time to hear that.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH
NEWBURY PARK: The Panthers, who placed sixth in the 1986 Southern Section 4-A championships, are ranked sixth in the Southern Section preseason poll. Six of their top seven runners return, including Mike Esparza, who placed third in last year's 4-A championships as a sophomore and ran 9:26.5 for 3,200 meters in track.
Matt Guetschoff, who has run 4:28.3 for 1,600 meters, will be the No. 2 man and Chris Harris and Steve Garcia will battle for the No. 3 spot. Sophomore Eric Guetschoff (Matt's brother) and junior Greg Longaker will vie for the fifth position.
"We have to develop a solid fourth and fifth man," said Coach Mike Stewart, who is beginning his 14th season. "That's what hurt us last year."
CANYON: The Cowboys are the most improved team in the Valley area. Ranked 10th in the preseason 4-A poll, six of their top seven runners return, including junior Mike Rattary, the defending Golden League champion.
Seniors Doug Ravasdy and Nathan Minzey, sophomores John Serrano and Lee Cohen and freshman Dave Hartman will compete for the second through sixth positions.
"Depth will be our strength," said third-year coach and former Cal State Northridge distance star Ed Chaidez. "By the end of the year we may have only a 10-second gap between our second and sixth runners."
HART: The Indians have been the most consistent team in the Valley area for the past three years, placing fourth, fourth and second in the Southern Section 3-A championships from 1984-1986. Sophomore Stephen Lepken and senior Don Patti, Hart's fourth and third runners last season, will battle for the No. 1 spot.
Juniors Peter Delacerda, a 9:45 two-miler from Alemany and junior David Rizzo, the Indian's fifth man last season, will contend for the No. 3 spot. Eric Flormonte, a junior and Steve McCrank, a sophomore, will compete for the fifth position.
"Lepken and Patti have to be in the top seven at CIF for us to contend," sixth-year Coach Gene Blankenship said.
THOUSAND OAKS: Five of the top seven runners graduated from a team that won the 4-A championship. Paul McCarter, who placed fourth in the Ventura County and Marmonte League championships in 1986, will lead a young but talented team.
Juniors Mike Williamson and Tim Farrell will compete for the No. 2 spot. Williamson ran 9:48 for 3,200 meters in track, and Farrell (the coach's son) was the fifth runner on last year's varsity team. Dan Jeanjaquet and sophomore Bill McMullin are expected to be the Lancers' fourth and fifth runners.
"I think we'll be real tight again," said Coach Jack Farrell, who is beginning his 13th year.
BURBANK: The Bulldogs placed fourth in the Foothill League last season and five of their top seven runners return. Todd Lewis, who has a converted best of 4:23.1 in the mile, and Robert Lopez, who's run 2:02.0 for 800 meters with a converted best of 4:25.46 in the mile, are two talented juniors.
Al Lewis (Todd's older brother), gives Burbank a strong third runner and Mike Lee and sophomore Mike Segovia should round out the top five. Carlos Metheney, who has run 2:00.0 in the 880 and 50 seconds in the 440, and junior Robert Romero give Burbank added depth.
AGOURA: Three of the Chargers' top four runners return, including Bryan Dameworth, the best high school distance runner in the Valley area last season. As a freshman, Dameworth placed third in the Southern Section 2-A championships, eighth in the Kinney West Regionals and 19th in the national championships.
In track, he set a national freshman record in the indoor two-mile (9:22.2), won the Southern Section 1-A title at 3,200 meters and placed seventh in the state championships. He has a personal best of 9:09.78 in the 3.200.
Peter Oviatt is expected to be the second runner and junior Bob Gorman, last season's No. 4, will move up to the third spot. Clay Singleton should be the fourth scorer and brothers Derek and Jason Kite, transfers from Nebraska, should be the fifth and sixth runners.
GRANADA HILLS: Last season the Highlanders placed fourth in the City Section championships. This year they'll try to accomplish what no Valley team has done in the past nine years--win a City Section title. Senior Ian Alsen, the runner-up in the 1986 cross-country finals, will lead the team.
Junior Craig Lawson and senior Paul Klinedinst, the third and fourth runners last year, will move up a notch. Like last season, the fourth and fifth positions will be areas of uncertainty for the Highlanders. Senior Joel Schweiger and junior Steve Gordon are the leading candidates.