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COLLEGE CROSS-COUNTRY PREVIEW : Long Trek to Nationals All Uphill for Northridge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The good news for Cal State Northridge cross-country Coach Don Strametz is that the Matador men’s and women’s teams appear to be an improvement on last year’s versions.

The bad news is that neither team has improved sufficiently to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the NCAA Division I championships in Tucson on Nov. 25.

The Northridge men--with junior Sasha Vujic and senior Jorge Castro returning from redshirt seasons--will have a stronger one-two punch and more depth than last year’s team. But it probably will not be enough for the Matadors to qualify for the NCAA championships by finishing among the top three men’s teams in the District 8 meet in Fresno on Nov. 16.

With Oregon, the third-ranked team in the country, Arizona (No. 8) and Washington (No. 17) all in District 8, Northridge’s chance of making a strong run at nationals is about as good as the Communist Party’s chances of winning in a Soviet election.

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The Northridge women face an even more difficult task. They must place in the top two in the district meet to qualify for nationals. And with UC Irvine (No. 5), Oregon (No. 7) and Northern Arizona (No. 12) all residing in the same district, their chances don’t look good.

The Northridge men placed 12th in the district meet last year and the women finished 10th.

“Our chances of making it to nationals as a team are slim and none,” said Strametz, whose teams will run in the Fresno Invitational on Saturday. “But I really like the attitude on this team. We’ve got the biggest group out there that we’ve ever had and everyone is really supportive of each other.”

Vujic--the eighth-place finisher in the 1989 Division II cross-country championships--is coming off a disappointing track season but is in great shape, according to Strametz, and has an outside shot at qualifying for the Division I meet as an individual. The top three individuals (who are not on a qualifying team) in the district meet among the top 15 finishers will advance to the national championships.

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“Sasha is in much better shape at this stage of the season than he was two years ago,” Strametz said. “He’s running 20-25 seconds faster than Derik (Vett) did in hill repeats last year.”

Vett, the Northridge record-holder in the 5,000 meters (14 minutes 9.3 seconds), was the Matadors’ top finisher in the district meet last year, placing 15th.

Castro, who placed 11th in the ’89 Division II cross-country championships, is Northridge’s No. 2 runner and freshman Brian Godsey and junior Michael Smith are expected to be third and fourth.

Junior Rich Gitahi and senior Fernando Fernandez will battle for the No. 5 slot.

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The top position on the women’s team is up for grabs because Darcy Arreola has completed her athletic eligibility. Arreola was 12th in last year’s Division I championships.

Senior Kelly Tremmell, who earned Division II All-American honors by placing 15th in the ’89 championships, is expected to be the Matadors’ top runner by season’s end if she can recover from a bout with Graves’ disease. Until then, sophomores Ava Dancel, Jennifer Andrews and Michelle Ishio are expected to run as Northridge’s top three.

The top runners from local junior colleges likely will come from Glendale College, which boasts defending state champion Hugo Allan Garcia. Antelope Valley’s Jean Harvey is expected to be the leading local woman runner in the junior college ranks.

Garcia and Obed Aguirre finished first and seventh for Glendale in last year’s state meet, but the Vaqueros’ next three runners placed 54th, 69th, 80th, and Glendale finished a disappointing sixth. Lack of depth should not be a problem this year. Garcia and Aguirre are back and so is Oscar Perez, who finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the state junior college championships in May.

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Sophomore Robert Nelson also will be eligible to run for Glendale after transferring from Pasadena City College. Nelson placed 10th in the 1989 Southern California regionals for Pasadena.

“We’re one year older and one year stronger,” Glendale men’s Coach Eddie Lopez said. “Our goal is to finish in the top three at the (Southern California championships) and at the state meet.”

Harvey placed seventh in the state cross-country meet last year and she has improved greatly since. She finished second in the 5,000 and fourth in the 3,000 in the state track championships and second in the 10,000 in both The Athletics Congress Junior (19 and under) championships and the Pan American Junior meet.

Sophomore Grace Padilla, a transfer from East L. A. College, is expected to be Glendale’s top woman runner. Padilla placed third in the 1,500, sixth in the 5,000 and eighth in the 3,000 in the state track championships.

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The Moorpark women’s team placed fourth in the state championships last year, but the Raiders have lost four of their top six runners.


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