KEEPING TABS : Skieresz, Mortensen to Miss Strong Cross-Country Meet

The second-biggest collegiate cross-country meet of the season will be held today in Greenville, S.C., but defending NCAA champion Amy Skieresz of Arizona and highly regarded sophomore Kim Mortensen of UCLA won't be running.

Skieresz, a 1995 graduate of Agoura High, will race in the Murray Keatinge Invitational in Camden, Maine, today, and Mortensen will not run in the NCAA Championships Preview Meet in South Carolina because she will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in her lower back.

"The Murray Keatinge meet has become a tradition with us and we didn't want to miss it," Arizona Coach Dave Murray said. "The pre-NCAA meet has usually been held on the third weekend in October, but when they moved it up a week this year, we just decided to stay with our schedule."

With Skieresz, a junior, absent, Mortensen would have been a contender for the individual title in the meet that will be held on the course that will host the NCAA Championships on Nov. 24. But the 1996 graduate of Thousand Oaks High underwent an MRI test Wednesday and it revealed that she had a fracture on the right side of her sacrum, the last bone of the spine.

"It's really disappointing," Mortensen said. "It's still kind of shocking because I've never had a stress fracture or broken bone of any kind. It's hard because I'm going to have to take it real easy for the next few months and I'm not used to taking it easy."

Mortensen, who set a national high school record of 9:48.59 in the 3,200 meters in 1996, won the season-opening UC Irvine Invitational on Sept. 13 and finished second to Skieresz in the Aztec Invitational in San Diego a week later.

She felt a sharp pain in her back when she was warming down after that race and subsequently missed the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 27.

Although Mortensen is allowed to ride a stationary bike for the next two months, she can't run at all.

"I'm going to have to be really serious about nutrition and taking care of myself from now on," said Mortensen, who sat out the 1997 track season to recover from a hamstring injury suffered during cross-country. "Hopefully, this thing will heal quickly and I can have at chance at running track."

Good start: David Lopez, runner-up in the state Division I cross-country championships last year as a Hoover High senior, is off to a great start at Arizona.

The 13th-place finisher in the national championships last year was the Wildcats' No. 5 runner in the Jammin' Invitational in Brea on Sept. 6 before moving up to No. 4 in the Aztec Invitational on Sept. 20.

He was Arizona's third runner last Saturday when the Wildcats finished fourth in the Mountain West Classic in Montana.

"David is doing fabulous," Murray said. "He studies like a little mad man and running is very serious to him. He's come in here and contributed right away as a freshman."

Emerging: Margarito Casillas, the 1992 state Division I cross-country champion for Hoover, has been Arizona's seventh man this season after not competing during the 1996-97 school year because of injuries. But Murray expects him to be the Wildcats' No. 1 or 2 runner by the end of the season.

"He's training well, but he just hasn't clicked in a race situation," Murray said. "He just hasn't gotten into that racing mode yet. He's come on strong at the end of each of his races, but he hasn't gone out with the leaders yet."

A trio of injuries hampered Casillas during his redshirt year.

First, he had tendon problems in his knee.

Then came surgery to alleviate the pain in his calves caused by compartment syndrome.

After recovering from the surgery, he tripped and fell on a run in April and broke his collarbone, which caused him to miss another six weeks.

BASEBALL

Rios a hit: Fernando Rios finished his first minor-league baseball season batting .333 for rookie-level Billings, Mont.

After being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, the Mexican-born Rios spent almost three weeks attempting to obtain a proper work visa from Mexico before he was able to sign a contract.

The extended delay cost him about 80 at-bats, and he fell about 40 plate appearances short of qualifying to be listed among Pioneer League batting leaders.

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