Peninsula Is Second-Best Again : Cross-country: Expected showdown with Agoura girls never develops as Irvine wins State Division I title. Panther boys finish fifth.

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The Peninsula High girls' cross-country team finally knocked off three-time defending state champion Agoura Saturday.

But the Panthers wound up only second best in the state championships at Woodward Park. Irvine edged Peninsula, 85-87, to win the Division I title in the closest finish in the meet's seven-year history.

Madera and Mt. Carmel were third and fourth with 107 and 142 points. Agoura was fifth with 160.

Agoura's Amy Skieresz ran away with the individual title, covering the 5,000-meter course in 17 minutes 49 seconds, and teammate Kay Nekota finished second in 18:12.

Irvine's Jessica Corbin edged Pennisula's Molly Mehlberg for third, both were timed in 18:14. And the next four scoring runners for Irvine and Peninsula were just as close.

The Panthers placed runners among the top 16 and Vaqueros had three in the top 12. Had the teams tied, however, Peninsula would have won by virtue of a faster sixth runner.

"We thought it would be close but never this close," said Mehlberg, a junior who was third in the 1992 state meet. "We thought it would be between us and Agoura. We told ourselves we better look out for other teams but we never really thought it would come down to beating Irvine."

Peninsula's Jaime Artzner was seventh in 18:50 and Mary Blake (19:08) and Jamille Claiborne (19:20) were 14th and 16th. Rina Kato rounded out the Panthers' top five, placing 46th in 20:23.

"Our top four put it on the line, you couldn't ask for anything else," Artzner said. "When I stepped off the starting line, I couldn't have gone any faster."

At the Southern Section finals Nov. 20, Agoura had defeated Peninsula to win the Division I title for the third consecutive year. Irvine was the fourth and final qualifier for the state meet.

Peninsula Coach Joe Kelly, though, said he never expected Agoura to challenge the Panthers for the state title. Palos Verdes and Agoura had combined to win the six previous championships.

"I knew there was no way Agoura was going to beat us today," said Kelly, who coached the Palos Verdes girls to state titles from 1987-89 before the school's merger to Peninsula. "We gave it our all, but Irvine ran great. I'd rather lose by two points and be in the hunt than not be in contention at all."

The Peninsula boys, led by 21st and 23rd-place finishes by Hide Sano and Ken Goodrich in 16:06 and 16:08, finished fifth in Division I with 162 points. Jason Neese (16:28), Ryan Deane (16:35) and Katsunuri Sano (16:38) completed the Panthers' scoring in 35th, 40th and 43rd.

Thousand Oaks placed five runners among the top 10 to win with 23 points--the lowest total ever in the state meet. The Lancers also set a course team-time record of 77:59 to break the record of 78:23 set by El Monte Arroyo in 1987.

Santa Ana was second with 88, followed by Madera and Bellarmine Prep with 95 and 99. Mebrahtom Keflezighi of San Diego turned in the meet's fastest time in winning the Division I race in 15:02.

Simone Ferrara of South Torrance and Matt Harris of Mira Costa placed 21st and 22nd in the girls' and boys' Division III races with times of 19:16 and 16:07.

Edison of Huntington Beach, Santa Margarita and Lassen won girls' team titles in Divisions II, III and IV. Sacramento Jesuit, Nordhoff and McFarland were victorious for the boys.

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