Top runner non-factor this season

Julie Nacouzi set records as a junior but didn't race in the North Bay League finals. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat, 2009

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Poised to challenge the Empire’s prep cross country records as a senior, Julie Nacouzi instead has been largely absent due to injuries and a lack of practice with the Montgomery team.
California’s runner-up in Division II a year ago, Nacouzi wanted to run the North Bay League finals, first in the series of season-ending championship meets. But Vikings coach Val Sell, with support from the school’s principal, did not allow Nacouzi to race because she hasn’t been part of the team for long stretches this season.

“I think Julie is an untapped talent. But she doesn’t seem to want to be part of a team environment,” Sell said.
Nacouzi said she has worked her way back from a lacerated knee and a nagging calf strain, but acknowledged she hadn’t run at enough team practices.

“I enjoy running at a different time or cross training more. I forgot running with the team was very important,” she said. “I guess it’s a letdown. It’s not the best outcome that I would want.”
Practicing with the team wasn’t an issue a year ago when Nacouzi took the league and North Coast Section titles, the latter in record-setting time. After finishing second at the state meet, Nacouzi made the field for the Foot Locker National Championship race.

Come track season, however, Nacouzi was injured and when healthy didn’t practice or race most of the season. Sell said she allowed Nacouzi to run at the league finals, where she finished second, but not at the NCS meet because she missed two months of practice.

“Even when kids are injured, I want them to come to practices and be involved so they are part of the team,” Sell said.
The senior cross country season started off well enough for Nacouzi. Ranked first in the state for Division II, she won that division race at the Stanford Invitational for the second year in a row.

“I always like the feeling of achievement at the end,” Nacouzi said.
But a calf strain that had bothered her flared up, sidelining Nacouzi. When she did return to running, Nacouzi didn’t practice much with the team, Sell said.
“I gave her a little extra slack because I know how much she likes to run and to compete,” Sell said.

Coach and runner eventually reached an agreement, both said. Nacouzi would make a minimum number of practices to race at the league finals.
Sell said Nacouzi was either late or missed practices. So she did not run at Friday’s meet.
Stephanie Nacouzi, Julie’s mother, said the coach and school officials were unreasonable. She said Julie made several weekly practices once she was healthy.

“Julie’s made great efforts to try to work with the team and try to come back from her injury,” Stephanie Nacouzi said. “They’re getting really picky about things.”
Both the coach and mother said Nacouzi does not talk or act like she is burned out on running.

“I told her on several occasions it’s her journey. If she feels too much pressure or doesn’t want to compete, it’s up to her,” Sell said. “When I see her run, she clearly loves to race.”
Running remains fun for Nacouzi, who said she respects Sell’s decision.

“I still run on my own. Sometimes I mountain bike,” she said. “There are requirements for teams. She had to make a decision and I guess it makes sense.”