A midseason slump caused by injuries and illnesses to its top three runners dropped the Nordhoff High girls’ cross-country team from the nation’s elite, yet the Rangers may still be ranked among the top 10 in the country in Harrier magazine’s final poll.
Nordhoff is heavily favored to win the Division IV title in the state championships at Woodward Park today, but it was only five weeks ago that Coach Ken Reeves held the Rangers out of the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational because junior Elaine Canchola was nursing a hip injury and seniors Terrah Chapin and Bridie Hatch had been ill.
At that time, a No. 6 preseason national ranking seemed a distant memory. But Nordhoff looked like its old self in the Southern Section championships last week, when Canchola, Chapin and Hatch placed first, third and fourth to lead the Rangers to a 34-78 victory over runner-up La Canada in the Division IV final.
That trio had placed first, sixth and ninth in the 1995 state championships when Nordhoff won the Division III title, but last week was the first time this season that each of them had run well in the same race.
The Syracuse-bound Chapin beat Canchola in their first two races this season, but mononucleosis slowed Chapin to eighth- and fourth-place finishes in the Ventura County and Frontier League championships, and she didn’t run in the Southern Section preliminaries.
Canchola was not in shape at the start of the season after missing track season for personal reasons. Then came the hip injury, which might have been caused by trying to get back into shape too quickly.
“This hasn’t been a typical season for us,” Reeves said. "[The girls] came out of the gate faster than they had in the past and that worried me a little bit. Because they are such a competitive group, there weren’t a lot of easy days.”
That might have hurt the Rangers early in the season, but they looked like a nationally ranked team last week when the cumulative time of their top five runners (88 minutes 41 seconds) was less than a minute slower than the 87:55 clocking of Division II champion Yucaipa, the third-ranked team in the nation.
The Nordhoff boys’ team, led by juniors Dusty Herman and Victor Ochoa, could also contend for a title in today’s meet, which starts at 8:30 a.m. and will include five enrollment-based divisions for the first time. The state championships consisted of three divisions from 1987-89 and four from 1990-95.
Nordhoff placed second behind Sultana in the section final, but the Rangers have traditionally produced their best performances in the state meet, winning three Division III titles.
Seniors David Lopez of Hoover and Andrea Neipp of Highland, the region’s top runners all season, are expected to contend for individual titles.
Lopez stamped himself as the Division I favorite when he won the team sweepstakes race of the Mt. SAC Invitational, and he’s followed that with three consecutive victories.
Neipp became one of the favorites for the Division II title when she ran away from the highly regarded trio of Irvine University’s Allyson Marquand, Yucaipa’s Kimi Welsh and Santa Margarita’s Katie Nuances to win the section final.
Senior Jen Schindler of Shingle Springs Ponderosa could be Neipp’s toughest competition, after beating her at Mt. SAC.
In team competition, Ventura contends for a top-three finish in the Division II girls’ race, as does Oak Park in Division V boys.