Newbury Park & Ventura Country Distance History 101
Newbury Park boys won the 2021 California State Cross Country Championship back in November of 2021 in an unheard of score of 16 points. What schools had the previous lowest scores for the largest school division in the most populated state in the US? Camarillo (1989) 39 points, Thousand Oaks (1994) 38 points, Royal (2005) 24 points and Thousand Oaks (1993) 23 points. What do all of these schools have in common? They are from the distance running county of Ventura.
Ventura County is located northwest of Los Angeles. It has cooler coastal cities as well as warmer cities inland that are typically in valleys with lots of hilly trails. Ventura County has over 800,000 people which is significantly smaller than neighboring counties of Los Angeles (over ten million people) and Orange County (with over three million people). Despite its smaller population, Ventura County distance runners have traditionally been competitive with larger populated counties. Hall of fame coach Ken Reeves of Nordhoff and Foothill Technology thinks that Ventura Country being in the northern part of the southern section made the schools an unknown quality before the internet, “Very few people were aware of the quality and depths of the teams in Ventura County. Ventura County teams would come in under the radar and go home with CIF plaques and medals, much to the surprise occasionally of our competitors below the Ventura County line.”
When Newbury Park’s 16 point total bettered scores by Thousand Oaks, Royal and Camarillo (all from Ventura County), those schools also competed as a member of the Marmonte League. Doug Speck was a track and field innovator while at Arcadia High School (being the first person to do ranking polls for the section teams). He researched the best high school track athletes in the nation to later recruit them to come to Arcadia Invitational. Doug also understood the early importance of the internet and team rankings. Along with John Dye and Rich Gonzalez, Doug Speck publicized the sport through DyeStat and DyeStatCal. He was also influential with national meets like Footlocker and Nike Cross Nationals. One of Doug's other passions was announcing cross country and track meets. Prior to teaching at Arcadia High School, he also taught at Ventura County schools Hueneme and Channel Islands and helped create the Ventura County Championships. Whenever a Marmonte League school toed the line at the fabled Mt. SAC cross country course, Doug would announce, “In box 3 is Camarillo High School from the toughest league in the country . . . the Marmonte League.” Ken Reeves believes that Doug Speck was an important supporter of Ventura County teams, “If it wasn’t for the knowledge of Doug Speck in the earlier years of the state meet, Ventura County teams would have been even more under the radar.”
Thanks to national meets like NXN (Nike Cross Nationals) and websites like Dyestat that ranks high schools, we can easily debate the best area for high school running. For sure the northern New York state schools have a lot to be proud of. The suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and Chicago boast strong programs. We know of the long tradition of high school distance running in Spokane too. Newbury Park has brought attention to Ventura County that also has a strong tradition of excellent teams and athletes.
1960s and Western Ventura County
Since Ventura County only recently emerged as a metropolitan area, the distance running history does not go back very far. Gary Tuttle of Buena High School was one of the first athletes to make a name in Ventura County. His coach Jim Hunt and Tuttle both left Buena for Humboldt State University where Tuttle was a two time NCAA Division 2 steeplechase champion. Tuttle also competed in three Olympic Trials and finished second in the 1985 Boston Marathon. Tuttle was also influential in the county with his running shoe store called Inside Track in Ventura and for being a starter at high school track meets. His coach Jim Hunt hosted a popular running camp in the Redwoods that was a summer tradition for Ventura County high school runners.
In the 1960’s the population of the county was in the western part and Oxnard had some important coaches like Tuck Mason at Oxnard High School who later coached at Ventura College. His daughter Michelle Mason was an outstanding high school runner at Buena and at Stanford. Ken Benefield won two CIF Cross Country Southern Section Titles (California did not have a cross country state meet until 1987) the 1960s with Hueneme of Oxnard and then Channel Islands of Oxnard. Here are some Ventura County highlights from the 1960’s:
1961 Oxnard (Mason) Boys 2A Runner up
1963 Oxnard (Mason) Boys 2A Champion
1964 Buena (Hunt) Boys 1A Runner up
1965 Hueneme (Benefield) Boys 2A Boys Champion, Dave Bogard, Simi Valley 3A Champion
1966 Al Balasco, Buena 2A Champion
1967 Channel Islands (Benefield) Boys 2A Champion, Tim Tubb, Camarillo 3A Champion
1968 Rio Mesa (Kuhn) Boys 1A Co-Champions, Chuck Smead, Santa Paula 1A Champion
1970’s Rise of Eastern Ventura County
As the 1970s approached, Ventura County started to grow in the eastern part of Ventura County. One of the first schools from the east side to gain attention was Royal High School of Simi Valley which dominated the Marmonte League (one year Royal won the Marmonte League with a perfect score of 15). Coach Ernie Schultz led those powerful Royal teams and they were affectionately called Ernie’s Army. One of his junior high feeder school coaches, Jim McCullough, moved across town and created a strong program at Simi Valley High School. Jim Smith’s Agoura teams also had strong showings (note, Agoura High School is in Los Angeles Country, close to the Ventura County line, but Agoura competes in Ventura County leagues and Ventura County cross country and track championships). Driving north on the 101 from Agoura High School, Thousand Oaks High School coach Jack Farrell was developing an outstanding boys and girls program. Girls? We haven’t mentioned girls because, and this seems hard to believe, girls did not compete in the state track meet until 1974 and cross country section meet until 1975. Still as the 70s closed, the girls at Newbury Park and Westlake placed in the southern section.
1970 Agoura (Smith) Boys 1A Runner up
1972 John Henderson Santa Paula 1A Champion
1973 Royal (Schultz) Boys 4A Champions, Agoura (Smith) 1A Runner up
1976 Simi Valley (McCullough) Boys 4A Champions
1977 Agoura (Smith) Boys 2A Champions, John Stormo, Agoura 2A Champion
1978 Newbury Park (Stewart) Girls 4A Runner up
1979 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys 4A Runner up, Westlake (Coach) Girls 2A Champion
1980’s Kinney Championship
Kinney Shoes sponsored an individual national championship held at Balboa Park in San Diego in 1979 (then name changed to Footlocker and more recently Eastbay). As the 1980s progressed, a number of Ventura County athletes placed at the Kinney. In 1981 Denise Ball of Newbury Park and Eric Reynolds of Camarillo were the first Ventura County athletes to compete with Reynolds of Camarillo winning the boy’s race the following year. The Ventura County momentum continued in 1984 as three Ventura County athletes ran Kinney (Jim Harvath of Thousand Oaks, Christy Farrell of Thousand Oaks and Melissa Sutton of Newbury Park). The following year Melissa Sutton became the highest female finisher at Kinney with a sixth place finish.
1980 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys 4A Champion, Agoura (Smith) Girls 2A Champion
1981 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys 4A Runner Up, Eric Reynolds, Camarillo Kinney Finalist, Denise Ball, Newbury Park Kinney Finalist
1982 Eric Reynolds, Camarillo 4A Champion & Kinney Champion
1983 Eric Reynolds, Camarillo 3200 Meter Track Champion
1984 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys 4A Champions, Paul Meyers, Westlake 4A Champion, James Harvath, Thousand Oaks Kinney Finalist, Buena (Blum) Girls 4A Runner up, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls 2A Runner up, Melissa Sutton, Newbury Park 4A Champion & Kinney Finalist, Christy Farrell, Thousand Oaks Kinney Finalist
1985 Simi Valley (McCullough) Boys 4A Champions, Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Girls 4A Runner up, Melissa Sutton, Newbury Park 4A Champion & Kinney Finalist
1986 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys 4A Champions, Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Girls 4A Runner up, Melissa Sutton, Newbury Park 4A Champion & Kinney Finalist
State Meet Recognition After 1987
1987 Agoura (Duley) Girls D1 Runner up, Deena Drossin, Agoura D1 Champion & Kinney Finalist, Bryan Dameworth, Agoura D1 Champion
1988 Agoura (Duley) Girls D1 Runner up, Deena Drossin, Agoura Kinney Finalist, Bryan Dameworth, Agoura D1 Champion & Kinney Finalist
1989 Camarillo (Smith) Boys D1 Champions, Bryan Dameworth, Agoura D1 Champion & Kinney Champion, Agoura (Duley) Girls D1 Runner up, Deena Drossin D1 Champion
1990’s California Cross Country State Meet
In 1987 California introduced the cross country state meet in Fresno. During this time period, Bill Duley’s Agoura teams started to make noise in California and nationally. Individual athletes from Agoura like Bryan Dameworth, Ryan Wilson, Amy Skieresz and Deena Drossin (Deena Kastor won the 2004 Olympic bronze medal in the marathon) shined at the state meet and at the Kinney Meet. Dameworth was the second athlete in the county to win the Kinney Meet, Wilson went from two-time CIF SS champion to University of Arkansas to be a 10-time All American, Drossin qualified for the Kinney finals four times and Skieresz continued her career at the University of Arizona by capturing seven NCAA individual titles. During the late 80s, the Harrier Magazine was starting to be recognized as a reliable cross country team ranking outlet. Camarillo boys team, coached by Mike Smith, won the 1989 State Cross Country Division 1 Meet with, at the time, the lowest score of 39. Harrier Magazine anointed Camarillo as the #1 team in the country. Agoura girls won three consecutive division titles at the state meet and the 1991 team earned Harrier Magazine’s #1 spot.
In another show of Ventura County strength, Marmonte League athletes finished 2-5-6 at the 1990 Kinney Meet in San Diego with Jeannie Rothman of Westlake finishing second, Veronica Barajas of Channel Islands finishing fifth and Deena Drossin finishing sixth. The next year in 1991 Ventura County had three more Kinney finalists in Jeff Wilson of Newbury Park, Ryan Wilson of Agoura and Maribella Aparicio of Fillmore.
Nordhoff High School in Ojai dominated the state meet in Fresno in the 1990s. Coached by Ken Reeves, Nordhoff girls and boy’s team won a combined eleven state titles in the 1990s with Elaine Canchola of Nordhoff making two Footlocker finals. Harrier Magazine recognized Nordhoff regularly in the 1990s as a top 25 team (ranked as high as #4 in 1995) despite being a much smaller school than most schools ranked in the Harrier. Coach Farrell’s Thousand Oaks boys and girls teams also received recognition from Harrier Magazine, winning two state titles and Kim Mortenson completed a fabulous senior year with a Footlocker win and a national record in the 3200 at 9:48.
1990 Fillmore (Torres) Boys DIV Champion, Camarillo (Smith) Boys DII Runner up, Jeff Wilson, Newbury Park DIII Champion, Bryan Dameworth, Agoura 3200 Meter Track Champion, Agoura (Duley) Girls DI Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIV Champion, Deena Drossin, Agoura DI Champion & Kinney Finalist & 3200 Meter Track Champion, Jeannie Rothman, Westlake DII Champion & Kinney Finalist, Veronica Barajas, Channel Islands Kinney Finalist
1991 Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIV Champion, Jeff Wilson, Newbury Park DIII Champion and Kinney Runner up, Ryan Wilson, Agoura Kinney Finalist, Agoura (Duley) Girls D1 Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) DIV Champion, Fillmore (Torres) Girls DIV Runner up, Maribella Aparicio, Fillmore DIV Champion & Kinney Finalist, Deena Drossin, Agoura 3200 Meter Track Champion
1992 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys DI Runner Up, Agoura (Duley) Boys DII Runner up, Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DII Runner Up, Ryan Wilson, Agoura DII Champion, Agoura (Duley) Girls D1 Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIV Runner Up, Karen Bockel, Nordhoff D1V Champion & Kinney Finalist, Amy Skeiresz, Agoura Kinney Finalist
1993 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys DI Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIII Champion, Amy Skieresz, Agoura DI Champion
1994 Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Boys DI Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIII Champion, Eleazar Hernandez, Camarillo Footlocker Finalist, Thousand Oaks (Farrell) Girls D1 Runner up, Amy Skieresz, Agoura DII Champion & Footlocker Finalist, Elaine Canchola, Nordhoff Footlocker Finalist
1995 Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIII Champion, Will Barnaldo, Nordhoff Footlocker Finalist, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIII Champion, Elaine Canchola, Nordhoff DIII Champion & Footlocker Finalist, Kim Mortensen, Thousand Oaks, Footlocker Champion
1996 Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIII Champion, Kim Mortensen, Thousand Oaks 3200 Meter Track Champion
1997 Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIV Champion, Aaron Sharp, Santa Clara DV Champion, Dustin Herman, Nordhoff Footlocker Finalist, Elaina Canchola, Nordhoff DIV Champion
1998 Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIV Champion, Josh Spiker, Ventura Footlocker Finalist, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIV Champion
1999 Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIV Runner up, Josh Spiker, Ventura 3200 Meter Track Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls DIV Runner up, Rae Stumbough, Nordhoff DIV Champion
2000’s Nike Team Nationals
The new century brought a national cross country championship meet called Nike Team Nationals (later changing to Nike Cross Nationals or NXN) that promoted the team concept of cross country. When it started in 2004, Nike invited teams based on ranking and by the end of the decade teams were selected from their performance at the state meet based on a power ranking. Coach Ryan Luce’s Royal team (himself a former Royal runner) raced in the first three NTN meets. Because NTN or NXN is held after the state meet and thus after the season, all the schools must run under a club name and Royal honored their history by naming their team Ernie’s Army after legendary Royal coach Ernie Schultz. Bill Tokar’s Ventura girls had a strong program and won back to back state titles. They were ranked as high as #2 on the Harrier Magazine rankings. Kevin Smith’s Oak Park teams also dominated this period with girl’s winning state cross country titles 2001, 2002 and 2003 and the boy’s won a state title in 2002.
2000 Santa Clara (Sharp) Boys DV Champion, Nordhoff (Reeves) Boys DIII Runner up, Oak Park (Smith) Boys DIV Runner up, Nordhoff (Reeves) Girls Girls III Runner up, Lindsey Owen, Nordhoff DIII Champion
2001 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Runner up, Oak Park (Smith) DIV Runner up, Oak Park (Smith) DIV Champions,
2002 Oak Park (Smith) Boys DIV Champion, Fillmore (Torres) Boys DIV Runner up, Santa Clara (Sharp) Boys DV, Phillip Reid, Rio Mesa DII Champion, Oak Park (Smith) Girls DIV Champions, Thousand Oaks (Radnoti) Girls DI Runner up, Ventura (Tokar) Girls DII Runner up, Bessie Hatch, Thacher DV Champion
2003 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Runner up, Oak Park (Smith) Boys DIV Runner up, Tony Arredondo, Santa Clara DV Champion, Phillip Reid, Rio Mesa 1600 Meter Track Champion, Ventura (Tokar) Girls D1 Champion, Oak Park (Smith) DIV Champion
2004 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Champion & NTN Team Qualifier, Bryan Rodie, Royal 800 Meter Track Champion, Ventura (Tokar) Girls D1 Champion
2005 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Champion & NTN Team Qualifier, Michael Cybulski, Royal 3200 Meter Track Champion, Thousand Oaks (Radnoti) Girls D1 Champion, Oak Park (Smith) Girls DIII Runner up
2006 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Runner up & NTN Runner Up, Ventura (Tokar) Boys D2 Runner up, Michael Cybulski, Royal DI Champion & Footlocker Finalist & 3200 Meter Track Champion, Cory Primm, Westlake 800 Meter Track Champion, Oak Park (Smith) Girls DIII Runner up
2007 Oak Park (Smith) Boys DIII Runner up, Cory Primm, Westlake 800 Meter Track Champion, Hudson Andrews, Royal 1600 Meter Track Champion, Oaks Christian (Smith) Girls DIV Champion, Oak Park (Smith) Girls DIII Runner up
2008 Thousand Oaks (Morris) Boys D1I Runner up & NXN Team Qualifier, La Reina (Lopez) Girls DIV Champion
2009 Royal (Luce) Boys D1 Runner up & NXN Team Qualifier
2010 to Present - National Champions
Ventura Country distance runners caught the attention of fans beyond the county and state thanks to several national championship performances. Simi Valley’s Sarah Baxter set course records at Mt. SAC and Woodward Park, won individual state cross country titles for four years in a row, won the 3200 meter race three times and was the first Ventura County athlete to win NXN (she won it twice). Soon after Sarah Baxter’s graduation, Claudia Lane of Malibu (the school competes in Ventura County) bettered Sarah Baxter's course records at Mt SAC and Woodward Park, won the California State Meet 3200 in track in 2017 and was the state cross country champion in 2016 and 2017 and was a two-time Footlocker champion in 2016 and 2017.
Ventura boys won the 2014 boys state title in cross country and then finished sixth at NXN. Ventura’s team included Garrett Reynolds, son of Camarillo’s Eric Reynolds who won Kinney in 1982. The decade concluded with Coach Reeves returning to state at Foothill Technology of Ventura and winning a combined four boys and girls state titles.
Newbury Park’s program under coach Sean Brosnan has reached levels of success not seen in Ventura County having won three straight state cross country titles and was the first Ventura Country school to win the team title at NXN and Nico Young of Newbury Park being the first Ventura County male athlete to win NXN (and he set the course record too). The girl’s program has also achieved success with a state championship of their own and an NXN appearance.
Nico Young later became the first former Ventura County high school athlete to break the four minute barrier in the mile while at Northern Arizona University. Who is the second Ventura County athlete to break the four minute barrier? Newbury Park teammate Colin Sahlman became the first Ventura County athlete to accomplish the feat as a high schooler during an indoor meet in February 2022.
But the success of Newbury Park is not just for the individual athletes because on November 20, 2021, current and alumni Newbury Park athletes had a banner day. The boy’s won CIF Southern Section with the perfect score of 15, the girls won a CIF Southern Section title, Nico Young ran for an All-American spot and helped Northern Arizona win the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championship and Adams State women’s team won the NCAA Division 2 Championship with Newbury Park’s Fiona Hawkins part of the championship team. This is all on one Saturday!
Newbury Park concluded the 2021 cross country season with the boys winning state with a record 16 points, girls finishing second and the boys winning the national championship at the Garmin RunningLane with unbelievable score of 29 with the 1-2-3 finish of Colin Sahlman, Leo Young, Lex Young and a fifth place finish by Aaron Sahlman. The 2022 track season is barely underway and the amazing marks continue with Newbury Park. Colin Sahlman recently beat pros on his way to a 3:58 indoor mile, Leo Young on that same day ran 7:57 for the indoor 3000 which is a second off the national high school indoor record set by his brother Nico. In addition, Ventura’s Sadie Engelhardt has set the national record for a freshman in the mile and the 3200 and as of this writing, track season has just begun.
2010 La Reina (Lopez) Girls DIV Runner up, Sarah Baxter, Simi Valley D1 Champion
2011 Simi Valley (Evans) Girls NXN Team Qualifier, Sarah Baxter, Simi Valley D2 Champion & NXN Champion & 3200 Meter Track Champion
2012 Westlake (Coach) Boys D2 Champion, Fillmore (Tafoya) Boys D4 Champion, Thacher (Coleman) Girls DV Runner up, Sarah Baxter, Simi Valley D1 Champion & NXN Champion & 3200 Meter Track Champion
2013 Westlake (Snyder) Boys D2 Runner up, Simi Valley (Evans) Girls D2 Champion & NXN Team Qualifier, Sarah Baxter, Simi Valley, D2 Champion & 3200 Meter Track Champion
2014 Ventura (Cruz) Boys D2 Champion & NXN Qualifier, Agoura (Pratt) Boys D3 Runner up, Carolyn Pietrzyk, Malibu D4 Champion & Footlocker Finalist
2015 Garrett Reynolds, Ventura NXN Individual Qualifier
2016 Foothill Technology (Reeves) Boys D4 Champion, Foothill Technology (Reeves) Girls D4 Champion, Claudia Lane, Malibu D4 Champion & Footlocker Champion
2017 Thacher (Coleman) Boys D5 Runner up, Foothill Technology (Reeves) Girls D4 Champion, Claudia Lane, Malibu D4 Champion & Footlocker Champion & 3200 Meter Track Champion
2018 Newbury Park (Brosnan) Boys D2 Champion & NXN Team Qualifier, Nico Young, Newbury Park D2 Champion, Foothill Technology (Reeves) Girls D4 Runner up
2019 Newbury Park (Brosnan) Boys D2 Champion & NXN Team Champion, Foothill Technology (Reeves) Boys D4 Champion, Nico Young, Newbury Park D2 Champion & NXN Champion & 3200 Meter Track Champion, Michael Mireles, Thousand Oaks NXN Individual Qualifier Newbury Park (Bronsan) Girls D2 Champion & NXN Team Qualifier, Brooke Secreto, Foothill Technology D4 Champion
2021 Newbury Park (Brosnan) Boys D1 Champion & RunningLane Champion, Colin Sahlman, Newbury Park D1 Champion & RunningLane Champion, Newbury Park (Bronsan) Girls D1 Runner up, Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura Footlocker Finalist
Why Ventura County?
How is Ventura County able to achieve all this success? What is special about the area of Ventura County? Legendary Thousand Oaks coach Jack Farrell thinks it has something to do with the geography of the area, “The county is full of rolling hills and steeper dirt trail inclines, which is ideal for cross country runners. Combine that with the cool ocean breezes and clean air and you have an ideal area for training.” Coach Farrell also feels that success breeds success, “Once Gary Tuttle and a few other Ventura Country runners put the county on the distance map, success began to spread. When I arrived at Thousand Oaks High School, the premier program was Royal under Ernie Shultz. I think Mike Stewart at Newbury Park, Jim Smith at Agoura and I just wanted to catch Ernie’s kids.”
Ken Reeves believes some of the Ventura County magic lies in the coaches, “I think Ventura County was blessed with exceptional teacher/coaches. Most everyone that was an elite Ventura County coach was also an elite classroom teacher and/or educator. Jack Farrell was brilliant in the classroom and often did seminars on teaching other teachers to teach better. Once the LA84 program was started with the surplus money from the 1984 Olympics, countless Ventura County coaches and educators were asked to speak at these clinics. Off of the top of my head, I remember Bill Duley, Mike Smith, Brian FitzGerald, Jack Farrell, Ryan Luce, Kevin Smith, Roger Evans, Tom King, Bill Tokar, Mike Stewart, Aaron Torres, Michele Burns, Jim Hunt, Joe Snyder and Tyree Cruz have all presented at these well received cross-country clinics. I am sure that I am missing a few. Countless others attended the clinics on an annual basis, improving their own knowledge while sharing little nuggets of success with the clinic audiences. At a meet, at a clinic or at a lunch, Ventura County coaches have been more than willing to share information for the betterment of the sport in the area. While I feel the majority of us were extremely competitive, I also think there was a sense of pride by all the coaches in the successes of the teams and individuals in Ventura County. Cannot remember a time when I didn’t receive congratulation or other positive emails from county coaches when our team had postseason success.”
Newbury Park is running at a level not seen before in Ventura County or in US high school history. Watching Coach Brosnan’s athletes compete at a high level is a joy to watch, a celebration of the sport and part of the proud tradition of Ventura County.
Special thanks to Ken Reeves for helping with names, dates and over all help with this article. I am eternally grateful for Ken's help and guidance with the article.