Nacouzi Wins West Regional Cross Country Championship

Julie Nacouzi, seen running in the Annadel Half Marathon in February. (Photo by Christopher Chung / The PD)

By Michael Coit
The Press Democrat

While most prep runners have been competing in a string of cross country championships, Julie Nacouzi trained only for the West Regional. On Saturday, the Montgomery senior won that race at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut.

Considered one of California’s top high school runners, Nacouzi didn’t compete for Montgomery due to injury and a lack of practice with the team.

Putting that experience behind her, she also left race favorite Molly Grabill, from Poway, back in second after trading leads throughout the 3.1-mile girls’ seeded race at Mt. SAC. Nacouzi will lead the top 10 girls for the West team at Saturday’s high school nationals in San Diego.

“I was well rested. I guess I did so well because I didn’t run any previous meets,” Nacouzi said. “It was a great experience.”

The Empire was well represented in Saturday’s races. The top finishers:
— Luis Luna, from Piner, was 23rd in the boys’ seeded race.
— Lauren Kraus, from Maria Carrillo, won the girls’ frosh/soph race.
— Petaluma runners Ryan Douglas and Kevin Poteracke were 4th and 9th, respectively, in the boys’ frosh/soph race.
— Jaime Silva, from Piner, was 10th in the boys’ sophomore race.
— Nicole Lane, from El Molino, was 10th in the girls’ junior race.

With the win in the top girls’ race, Nacouzi joins a handful of other winners from the Empire: Amber Trotter, Ukiah, 2001; Sara Bei, Montgomery, 1998; and Julia Stamps, Santa Rosa, 1994 and 1995. Trotter went on to win the national title, Bei won it in 2000, and Stamps won nationals in 1994.

A group of 20 runners led the girls’ field. Nacouzi broke away with only 400 meters to the finish, holding off Grabill, last year’s winner.

While she placed eighth in the same race a year ago, Nacouzi was just aiming for a top 10 finish. But the race went better than expected, with Nacouzi improving by 15 seconds on last year’s time.

“I felt I did well on the hills. I knew I could sprint downhill and straight to the finish,” Nacouzi said.

Running in front of cheering fans rather than on her own along the trails of Annadel State Park gave Nacouzi a boost.
“The fans were very motivational,” she said.

Nacouzi was able to compete in the regional championships because the field is not based on affiliation with a high school team.

Montgomery officials did not allow Nacouzi to race for the Vikings during the prep season because she wasn’t part of the team for long stretches. Some of her absences were due to injury, though Nacouzi was still expected to come out to practices.

Nacouzi said she prefers running more on her own and cross training with mountain biking. Still, she understood the school’s decision.

But running remained fun and Nacouzi loves to race.

“I like the anticipation of winning,” she said.

Next are the nationals, where Nacouzi finished 25th a year ago. Four regional teams, 40 runners in all, are set to race at Balboa Park in San Diego.

“I would like to get in the top half and improve from last year. It’s all fun,” she said.