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HIGH SCHOOL CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW : Hart on the Road to Becoming Solid Contender for State Title : Boys: Indians round into form during vigorous, two-week training camp at Winter Park, Colo.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How many high school cross-country coaches can say that their team literally is a cross-country team?

While some of the top Southern California programs consider a trip to Mammoth Lakes, Big Bear or Catalina Island a special occasion, Hart High Coach Gene Blankenship takes a broader view: He scans the western United States for possible training sites.

Lake Tahoe, Nev.; San Francisco and Brian Head, Utah, are marked on Blankenship’s map. And now Blankenship, who led the Hart boys’ team to the state Division I championship last fall in his 10th season with the program, can add Winter Park, Colo., to his list of cross-country excursions. A trip to Oregon next summer already is in the works.

Each of the past few years, Blankenship has corraled his Indians into the team van and the cars of volunteer parents and they caravan to a training site selected by team members. The 55 runners participating in Hart’s annual trip this summer chose Winter Park over San Francisco and Flagstaff, Ariz.

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The fresh air, beautiful mountains and pristine lakes surrounding the campsite at Snow Mountain Ranch spelled relief to the team, which was getting away from the hazy skies, congested highways and otherwise poor running conditions that exist in Los Angeles County in August.

The runners temporarily might have escaped the Los Angeles weather, but they still faced a hot workout schedule during their two-week training camp. Blankenship put his runners through a vigorous regimen that included running, biking and swimming in twice-daily sessions.

While Hart’s mountainous retreats have become a tradition, so has the Indians’ dominance in the Southern Section and, lately, state championships.

Hart won consecutive boys’ Southern Section titles--the 3-A Division in 1989 and Division I in 1990--and routed previously undefeated Madera, 58-113, for the state Division I title last year. From 1984-88, Hart finished no worse than fourth in the Southern Section 3-A finals.

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Even though the 1991 high school season has not yet started, Hart already is rated as the team to beat by virtue of its No. 1 national ranking by The Harrier magazine.

Hart’s depth chart includes 10 runners--including six juniors--with times under 18 minutes on the rugged, three-mile course at College of the Canyons. Junior Keith Grossman placed 13th in the state Division I final at Fresno’s Woodward Park a year ago and has emerged as the Indians’ No. 1 runner this season by virtue of his 16:06 mark in a summer time trial.

Junior Paul De La Cerda (16:29) and sophomore Gavin Klinger (16:43), Hart’s fourth and sixth runners in the state meet last year, will give the Indians a formidable top three. Mike Dukes, Hart’s fifth man in the state final, posted only the sixth-fastest time (17:31) for Hart this summer, but Blankenship expects the senior to move up.

Freshman Brett Strahan and junior Tom Givens, who Blankenship described as his “most dedicated” runner, also have run under 17 minutes--16:58 and 16:59, respectively.

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TEAMS TO WATCH

Camarillo: The Scorpions’ string of recent successes seems endangered--Coach Mike Smith is fielding one of his youngest teams in the past three years, there are only two established seniors among the top seven and Camarillo is hindered by a lack of depth in the fifth, sixth and seventh positions.

Bodie Minster, who timed 16:13 on the Woodward Park course as a junior, helped Camarillo to the state Division I title in 1989 and a second-place finish in the state Division II meet last year. Senior John Park was Camarillo’s seventh runner in the state meet a year ago. Junior Scott Byrd has run 16:20 on the Moorpark College course and figures to be the Scorpions’ No. 2 runner. Sophomore Ben Hill, who ran 9:53 in the 3,200 as a freshman, makes for a solid top four.

Channel Islands: Coach Tom Kiddie watched forlornly as a key performer from last year’s team, Stewart Ellington, moved to Milpitas, Calif., this summer. Ellington, then a junior, placed 14th in the state Division I final to lead the Raiders to a fifth-place finish. Without him, Channel Islands has only five returning lettermen.

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Seniors Fernando Mendoza and James Darpino and junior Miguel Ortega figure to lead the defending Ventura County champions. Senior Joey Siebold and junior Patrick Blunt add depth to the scoring five.

Hoover: The Tornadoes have five sub-16:50 runners returning from last year’s team, which finished seventh in the Southern Section Division I final.

Margarito Casillas qualified for the state meet and finished 19th in 16:05 last year as a sophomore. He also timed 9:18.78 for 3,200 meters during the track season.

Senior David Ulloa ran 16:27 at Crescenta Valley Park. Seniors Angel Casillas (16:27) and Jack Sallakian (16:48) and junior Alvaro Lopez (16:36) will help the Tornadoes in their bid for their fifth Pacific League title in a row.

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Quartz Hill: The Rebels nearly unseated Canyon last year as Golden League champion and might end the Cowboys’ four-year reign atop the league standings. Quartz Hill upset Canyon in the league finals last year, but the league champion is decided by dual-meet performances.

Junior Joe Bedortha, third in the league meet a year ago, returns to pace Quartz Hill. Junior Chris Nardi has run well during summer training and could challenge Bedortha. Senior Rich Gatlin and sophomore Corey Rich are solid in the third and fourth positions.

Rio Mesa: The Spartans, second in the Channel League last year, could make it all the way to the top this season.

Jerry Hilsabeck won the Ventura County freshman title last year and Jason Locher claimed the sophomore championship. Senior Cesar Zepeda timed 9:52.85 for 3,200 in track last spring. Chris Hilsabeck and Doug Van Slyke are solid fourth and fifth runners.

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Individuals to Watch

J. J. Castner (Oak Park): Castner, a senior, has been a standout at the Small Schools level the past two years. The defending Southern Section Division IV champion, Castner finished sixth in the state Division IV meet last year and fifth in the Division III championship in 1989.

Jeff Wilson (Newbury Park): Because of the lack of returning talent at the state Division III level, the defending champion will employ a more authoritative racing style, Coach Ed Linglebach said.

A faster start instead of an explosive kick could help the senior improve on his time of 15 minutes 14 seconds at Mt. San Antonio College and 15:15 at Woodward Park in Fresno.

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Ryan Wilson (Agoura): As a sophomore last year, Wilson placed ninth in the state Division II final to lead the Chargers to a fourth-place finish.


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