2009-10-01 / Sports

Oak Park remains a premier program

Boys’ and girls’ cross country teams are title contenders in TVL
By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers FAST TRACK—Melissa Skiba is a top distance runner in the state. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers FAST TRACK—Melissa Skiba is a top distance runner in the state. If it feels like it’s been a long season for the Oak Park High girls’ and boys’ cross country teams—it has been.

Most Eagles have been running since May, while the 200809 school year was still in session.

The team officially started practice on July 13. There’s still the rest of the regular season to go, then the Tri-Valley League championships, then the postseason.

“It’s been a tremendous grind,” Oak Park head coach Kevin Smith said.

Fortunately for Smith and the Eagles, the school has plenty to smile about.

Melissa Skiba, for starters.

The super senior leads the Oak Park girls’ squad, ranked No. 4 among Division III teams in California by DyeStatCal.com.

“Melissa is one of the top runners in the nation,” Smith said. “Every major university has contacted her.”

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers LEADER—James  Goldstein paces the OPHS boys’ squad. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers LEADER—James Goldstein paces the OPHS boys’ squad. Skiba doesn’t know what school she’ll attend next fall. She’s focused on helping the Eagles now.

“It’s my last year,” the captain said. “I want to make it the best. I want to improve more.”

The senior said she has improved her foot speed and overall endurance. Skiba said her personal goals are to earn a top-five individual finish in the state and qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships at San Diego on Dec. 12.

Kaycee Holcomb, a junior, is right behind Skiba on the depth chart. A multi-sport athlete who has played soccer and run track, Holcomb has devoted this season solely to long-distance running, Smith said.

“I think we’re exceptionally solid up front with Kaycee and Melissa,” the coach said.

A group of eight runners are competing for the final three scoring spots.

Sophomore Brittany Stalzer and senior Jessica Reints are integral runners for Oak Park.

Smith said Reints has bounced back from a “mediocre” junior season. The coach called junior Taelor Young, a newcomer to the sport, a “gift.”

“She dropped in my lap,” the coach said. “She shows up, and she can really run.”

Meira Prescher, a senior captain, and juniors Xcaret Osorio and Candace Matasunaga provide quality depth for the Eagles.

Anther impact newcomer is freshman Maddie Christian. Senior Katie Eng, junior Erinn Tempelis and freshman Kelsey Watters are other talented runners.

Prescher said the team is rebounding well and learning from the mistakes of a disappointing 2008.

The girls’ squad finished 12th at the CIF state Division III meet last season. The boys were sixth overall.

“We’re working really well together,” said Prescher, who suffered a stress fracture in her right ankle three days before the start of her junior year.

“Last year was a year to learn and grow. This year is about executing and focusing on our training.”

Senior captain Jamie Kosberg said she’s excited about this year, saying it could be “special.”

Instead of obsessing about the end result, Kosberg said she has learned to enjoy the season’s long and winding road.

“It’s not about how we do at the end but how everyone does every day,” she said. “It’s more about the process and to see how we do as a team.”

Smith thinks La Reina, the reigning Division IV state champs, will give the Eagles a test for TVL supremacy.

Traditional powers Corona del Mar, Orange Lutheran and Palos Verdes—three teams ranked in the top 10 in the state among DIII schools—could also challenge Oak Park later in the postseason.

Smith hopes OPHS will be a top-six team in the section, and top-eight in the state.

On the boys’ side, No. 1 returner and senior James Goldstein leads the pack.

“He establishes the standard that we’re going to work from,” Smith said of Goldstein.

“He’s been doing a good job working with our other runners and teaching them. He’s continuing the legacy of what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to train.”

Goldstein has big goals for himself and the Eagles, who won the Tri-Valley League in 2008.

“I want to win state as an individual,” he said. “The team is where most of my focus is.”

Goldstein hopes Oak Park can earn a top-five finish at the state meet.

After Goldstein, senior Omer Levy follows. Smith said Levy is a tough competitor. Junior Blake Minasian and sophomore Michael Tucker round out the top four boys’ runners.

The key for Oak Park is identifying a No. 5 runner. Smith called the five-spot the team’s “black hole.”

The Eagles should know more about their depth after competing at the Clovis Invitational on Sat., Oct. 10.

“It’s on the state championship course, and it’s a good barometer for where you are and how your team is running,” Smith said.

Senior team captain Scott Frey, Grant Consoletti, James Anderson, Kevin Fernandez, Asaf Kraus, Jacob Lowry, Tyler Milles, Nick Quinn, Ryan Salim and Ryan Zelada are contributing for the Eagle boys.

Eric Koons, another senior captain with Goldstein and Frey, thinks Oak Park has solid younger runners.

“We have a bunch of really fast juniors and sophomores,” Koons said.

Frey, a first-year varsity runner, hopes this year’s squad will make a name for itself among other strong Oak Park teams.

OPHS is currently ranked ninth in the CIF-SS Division III poll by DyeStatCal.com.

“Pretty much every year we go to state,” said Frey, who hopes he can earn that fifth spot in the lineup. “I want to continue that tradition.”

Smith said the boys’ team is training hard.

“They are under a lot of pressure because of the history of this program,” the coach said. “I think that one of the things that motivates them and scares them is the fear of failure.”

It hasn’t been easy—but success never is.

“The kids are training hard,” Smith said. “It does require . . . coming out to practice every day motivated—despite those dog days—to persevere.”

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