After toiling in the shadows of Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Agoura highs in recent years, the Newbury Park boys' track and field team could win its first Marmonte League title this season.
Mike Stewart is in his second stint as the Panthers' track coach and is upbeat after guiding the boys' cross-country team last fall to a share of its first league title since 1983.
"We've got some guys who can score points in the distance races in the league championships," Stewart said. "That's probably going to be the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's."
Newbury Park was 8-1 in dual- and triangular-meet competition last season, including a 6-1 mark in league meets, but finished fourth in the league finals after scoring a combined total of six points in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
League champion Thousand Oaks totaled 50 points in those events, but the Lancers' terrific trio of Jeff Fischer, Keith O'Doherty and Kevin Marsden have moved on to Stanford, Arkansas and the Air Force Academy, respectively. Camarillo's Eleazar Hernandez, who is at Moorpark College, Channel Islands' Francisco Sandoval (UC Davis) and Agoura's John Greene (Cal State Northridge) also graduated, which means there will be plenty of new faces at the front of the pack in this year's league finals.
Senior Matt Swartz and junior Ross Wood, second and third in the league cross-country championships, should be Newbury Park's top distance runners.
Swartz has a personal best of 9 minutes 59 seconds in the 3,200 and Wood has run 2:02.40 in the 800, 4:31.8 in the 1,600 and 10:06 in the 3,200.
The Panthers will be well-stocked in the weight events with the return of twins Brock and Brant Diediker, the defending league champions in the shotput and discus.
Brock Diediker has a best of 52 feet 9 inches in the shotput. Brant took up the discus last season and improved by nearly 40 feet in the last month to win the league title with a personal best of 156-11.
DeJuan and Dave Hawkins are another brother tandem who figure prominently in Newbury Park's title hopes.
DeJuan Hawkins, a senior, has cleared 6-4 in the high jump, run 24.6 in the 200 and thrown the discus 117-7.
Dave, a junior, has run 15.9 in the 110 high hurdles and 42.3 in the 300 intermediates. He and senior Brian Day (bests of 15.5 and 42.6) should give the Panthers a solid one-two punch in those events, as will DeJuan Hawkins and junior Chad Bryant (6-2) in the high jump.
Newbury Park should also be solid in the sprints and jumps as senior Eddie Patterson has bests of 11.2 in the 100, 20-2 in the long jump and 41-5 1/2 in the triple jump.
The 400, 1,600 relay and pole vault appear to be Newbury Park's weaknesses, but Stewart seems optimistic that the Panthers will produce enough surprises in those events to win their first league title and dull the painful memory of 1977. Newbury Park was undefeated in dual meets that season, but finished fourth in the league finals--and second overall--after dropping the baton in the 1,600 relay.
"I like the athleticism of this team," Stewart said. "We have much more athletic ability than we've had in a long time."
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH:
Birmingham--The Braves placed 13th in the City Section championships last year, but could finish among the top five this season.
Seniors Maurice Threewitts and Lavon Rockett and junior Mohammed Ahmed give Birmingham a quality 1-2-3 punch. They led the Braves to their 65th consecutive dual-meet victory Friday.
Threewitts has personal bests of 22.4 in the 200 and 51.6 in the 400 and Rockett has leaped 22-9 in the long jump and 43-9 in the triple jump. Ahmed won the frosh-soph high hurdles in last year's City meet and has run 15.0 in that event and 41.5 in the 300 intermediates.
Sophomore Demetrius Patterson and juniors Jose Lorenzo and Roberto Varela should also figure in Birmingham's success.
Patterson has run 11.0 in the 100 and Lorenzo has timed 4:40.6 in the 1,600 and 10:22.1 in the 3,200. Varela, the 1995 frosh-soph City champion in the pole vault, has a best of 11-6 in that event.
Hart--John Duarte and Sandro Soler should give the Indians quality depth in the distance events and fellow seniors Ted Iacenda and C.J. Port should do likewise in the shotput and discus. But Hart must fill some big holes in the jumping events to win an eighth consecutive Foothill League title.
Duarte and Soler finished first and second in the league cross-country finals and Iacenda--an All-Southern Section Division II running back--has a personal best of 50-6 1/2 in the shotput.
Port has a best of 133 feet in the discus and senior Matt DiSarro ran 15.7 in the high hurdles as a sophomore before injuries slowed him last season.
Senior Kevin McLaughlin has run 11.1 in the 100, 22.9 in the 200 and 51.3 in the 400, but he underwent shoulder surgery in January and it's unknown if he'll be at full strength this season.
The Indians have also been hit hard by relocation since last season. Senior Reggie Banks moved to the Antelope Valley and junior Jeff Stewart moved to Minnesota. Banks had leaped 21-8 1/2 in the long jump and Stewart had run 2:01.1 in the 800 and 4:32.9 in the 1,600.
Rio Mesa--Juniors Ronald Almaguer and Scott Johnsen and senior Aldo Hernandez placed seventh, eighth and ninth in the Ventura County cross-country championships and could help the Spartans snap Ventura's Channel League title streak at four.
Johnsen ran 2:02.0 in the 800 last season, Hernandez timed 4:35.35 in the 1,600 and Almaguer was a Times all-area second-team selection in cross-country.
Randy Hurt ran 15.9 in the high hurdles and 42.5 in the intermediates last season and fellow seniors Mike Daugherty and Tim Tipton had bests of 144-9 and 138-5 in the discus. Hurt and Tipton advanced to the Southern Section Division II prelims after placing third in the highs and discus, respectively, in the league finals.
Thousand Oaks--Fischer, O'Doherty and Marsden are gone, but the Lancers still have the Marmonte League's top distance runner in senior Todd Disney.
Disney placed second and third in the Division I races of the Southern Section and State cross-country championships and finished 22nd in the West Regional. Senior teammate Josh Carolan has run 2:01.96 in the 800 and could be among the league's best in that event and the 1,600.
Seniors R.J. Starr, Jeff Feieresen, Dave Garrett and Marty Lipira also need to perform well for Thousand Oaks to win its second consecutive title.
Starr has a best of 53-5 1/2 in the shotput, but finished second to Brock Diediker in the league finals.
Feieresen has run 22.75 in the 200 and 51.5 in the 400 and placed second in both events in the league meet.
Garrett has run a wind-aided 15.4 in the high hurdles and Lipira has cleared 6-0 in the high jump.
INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH:
Will Bernaldo (Nordhoff)--The Ranger senior failed to advance to the Southern Section Division III championships in the 3,200 last year, but he's coming off a superb cross-country season.
He won the Southern Section Division III title, placed third in the State championships and was seventh in the West Regional.
Merlin DeMartinis (Harvard-Westlake)--The top pole-vaulter in the region last year, the Wolverine senior could also be one of the area's top high-hurdlers.
He has personal bests of 14-6 in the pole vault and 15.1 in the highs and placed second and ninth in those events in last year's Southern Section Division III championships.
Miguel Fletcher (Alemany)--The top returning sprinter in the region, he ran 10.83 in the 100 and 21.93 in the 200 as a freshman last year.
He should contend for Southern Section Division III titles in both events this season and could advance to the State championships.
Troy Garner (Notre Dame)--The standout wide receiver is headed to USC on a football scholarship and is also the region's top returning quarter-miler.
He has personal bests of 48.65 in the 400, 21.7 in the 200 and 10.7 in the 100 and is the defending Southern Section Division III champion in the 400.
Ronney Jenkins (Hueneme)--The Viking senior capped his high school football career by rushing for a national record of 619 yards against Rio Mesa last fall.
He is headed to Brigham Young on a football scholarship, but could have earned a track scholarship as well with bests of 24-1 in the long jump, 10.82 in the 100 and 22.21 in the 200.