The Peninsula High girls' cross-country team appears to be a shoo-in to make it to the State Division I meet for a third consecutive year. The Panthers return their top three runners from the 1992 squad that finished fourth in state.
Raising $11,000 for trips to meets in New York and Stanford this season, however, was far from a sure thing.
It took three years and a lot of hard work to raise the money. The fund-raising drive culminated this summer with the team staging garage sales and selling nearly 600 seat cushions to its their goal.
"It's been a slow process to save enough, but we're going to blow all our savings in one year," Peninsula Coach Joe Kelly said.
Kelly, however, might want to consider a trip to Fresno for the 1994 State meet on his itinerary.
Peninsula is ranked third in the nation by The Harrier magazine and second in the state. But the 1994 team could be better. The Panthers have only one senior among their top five runners.
"I think we have a pretty young team and we definitely have goals for the future," senior Jaime Artzner said. "But if we put goals in perspective and everyone is motivated to work hard, I think we'll be very good this year."
Much of the Panthers' success will depend on Artzner and junior Molly Mehlberg.
The pair placed third and 11th at the 1992 State meet. During track, Mehlberg and Artzner advanced to the Southern Section finals in the 3,200 and 1,600 meters, running 11 minutes 17.3 seconds and 5:09.2, respectively.
Juniors Mary Blake (14th) and Lynn Snyder (85th) also placed in the 1992 State meet. Snyder, the Bay League 3,200-meter champion, clocked 11:16.8 during track.
Juniors Jana Sandberg and Rina Kato and sophomore Jamille Claiborne will likely round out the top seven.
"Last year, the girls did well all year long and ran just as we had hoped and then everything fell apart at the end," said Kelly about Peninsula, which placed second in the 1992 State meet. "We have four girls. The real key is finding a reliable fifth. It's going to be up to who can emerge and fill the bill."
That was not a problem at the Sept. 11 Seaside Invitational in Ventura.
The Panthers, paced by a second-place finish from Mehlberg, placed three runners among the top seven to run away with the title.
Peninsula, which had a cumulative time of 94:37 for its first five runners, defeated a field that included Hart (95:48), Saugus (95:51) and Buena (96:45)--all teams ranked among the top 10 in the Southern Section's Division I.
The Panthers will meet Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) and Manchester (N.H.), ranked second and fourth in the nation, Oct. 2 at the Manhattan College Invitational in New York. A week later, Peninsula will take on California's best and could face Bend, Ore., the nation's No. 1 team, at the Stanford Invitational.
Agoura looms as Peninsula's main challenger in its quest for the state title. The schools will meet Oct. 23 at the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational.
In 1992, the Panthers became the first team in three seasons to beat Agoura.
"As far as closing the gaps between ourselves, we're getting stronger and stronger," Mehlberg said. "By the time we meet (Agoura), I know we can beat them. By the time we get to State, we'll be totally better."
Agoura Coach Bill Duley would tend to agree with Mehlberg's analysis. Agoura is fifth in the national rankings and the top-ranked team in the State Division I poll.
Although the Chargers return Amy Skieresz and Kay Nekota, who were second and fifth in the 1992 State meet, they must replace their third and fourth runners.
"We have a lot of a new faces and it's a semi-rebuilding year," Duley said. "Peninsula is going to be a very tough team to beat."
The Peninsula boys, who are seeking their third consecutive berth in the State meet, are fifth in the Southern Section Division I rankings. Mira Costa is eighth in Division III.
Peninsula (77:36) opened the season at the Seaside invitational with a third-place finish behind Thousand Oaks (75:37), the state's top-ranked team, and Hart (76:52), the three-time defending state champion.
Junior Kenny Goodrich (26th), whose sister Traci was a 1992 All-American at 10,000 meters in track at UC Irvine, is the top returner from the 1992 team that placed fifth at State. Steve Schultz (34th), Hide Sano (35th) and junior Chris Kelly (66th) also return. Junior Jason Neese should also break into the top five.