Local runners thrive at county meet

Girls are racing.
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Joel Gonzalez of Camarillo High boys’ cross country leads a pack of runners during the Ventura County Cross Country Championships at Lake Casitas in Ojai last weekend. Gonzalez nished eighth overall in the varsity boys’ race, clocking in at 15:54.16. © Acorn Newspapers
The three-mile cross country course at Lake Casitas in Ojai isn’t for the meek.

It’s often hot and dry. Dust kicks up, and runners struggle to breathe and see what’s in front of them. Then there are the formidable hills.

When the Ventura County Cross Country Championships arrives at Lake Casitas, runners stop complaining.

High schools across Acorn country participated in last weekend’s county meet.

Oak Park High’s boys and Simi Valley’s girls teams captured varsity team titles.

Oak Park Eagles Sahm Bazargan and Patrick Thedinga took first and second place, respectively, in the boys’ race.

Bazargan, a junior, recorded a time of 15 minutes, 25.07 seconds, while Thedinga crossed the finish line two seconds later.

“I knew they would be in the top-five,” said Oak Park head coach Al Calce. “I didn’t know if they would have had enough to go first and second.

Westlake junior Mikey Giguere finished fifth (15:50.77) in the varsity boys’ race. The Warrior said he could have run faster if he wore flat running shoes.

“I was pretty tired after that first mile there,” Giguere said at the finish line. “For this course, we’re still wearing trainers. We still haven’t switched into flats yet.

“Our team is hoping to make some big improvements from here on out.”

The Warriors and Pioneers met Thursday for the Marmonte League finals at Agoura.

Newbury Park junior Jonathan Byrne snagged third place (15:34.37) in the varsity boys’race.

Simi Valley junior superstar Sarah Baxter captivated the crowd.

Baxter received national media attention after a record-breaking 16-minute run at the Oct. 20 Mt. SAC Invitational.

The dynamic junior didn’t match her incredible performance, but Baxter still cruised to first place in 17:15.01 for her third straight Ventura County title.

Baxter said the race wasn’t easy.

“It was fast,” Baxter said. “It was hard and it was straining. I was fine going at cruise control pace, but it was a tough course.”

Baxter is becoming a legend— numerous fans asked her for autographs and pictures.

Monika Gyalay, a Moorpark sophomore, finished second in the girls’ varsity race (18:07.29).

Sophomore Pioneer Sarah Riggs (18:28.19) sealed third. Entering the Ventura County Championships, Camarillo junior Sierra Najolia wanted to redeem herself after a disappointing outing in 2011. Her goal was to medal.

The Scorpion reached her goal by securing 10th in the junior varsity girls’ race.

Najolia’s younger brothers, Diego and Joey, and grandparents cheered from the sidelines.

Najolia clocked in at 21:48.07, a two-minute improvement from last year’s race.

The Scorpion still isn’t a big fan of the course.

“I love the place, the lake and the camping,” she said. “The course is a different story. It’s not my favorite, but I just went out there and competed.”

Rio Mesa junior Matt Griffith said his goal was to pass runners he normally finishes behind.

Sophomore Jimmy FitzGerald, the Spartans No. 1 varsity boy, enjoyed a standout performance in his first Lake Casitas race.

FitzGerald clocked in with a personal-best time of 15:58.73, good for 12th place.

FitzGerald played football at Rio Mesa as a freshman.

“I don’t like football anymore,” FitzGerald said. “I’m a runner.”

Camarillo runners Esteban Vega and Joel Gonzalez represented the Pacific View League well.

Vega and Gonzalez finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the varsity boys’ race.

Camarillo’s seven varsity girls finished within the top-70 to capture medals.

Senior Scorpion Kathleen Dunne clocked in at 19:22.99 to take 14th place.

Scorpion Meghan O’Connell had fun, despite cramping during the race.

“I drank a lot of water before the race,” O’Connell said. “I even poured water on myself. I didn’t see that coming.”

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