Vikings’ Nacouzi third in cross country nationals


Staying back during a blistering first mile, Montgomery High’s Julie Nacouzi ran a smart race to capture third in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego on Saturday.
Lopping nearly a minute off her time in last year’s national finals, Nacouzi edged Kelsey Lakowske of Boulder, Colo., to take the bronze in 17:29.

“I tried to do a little better than last year and I did a lot better,” the Viking senior said. “It was very exciting.”
Improving on last year’s 25th-place finish in the national finals, Nacouzi capped a senior season that featured little running because of injury and a lack of practice.

With defending champion Aisling Cuffe leading wire to wire for the third-largest margin of victory ever, the remaining runners jockeyed for the other top places.
Now familiar with Balboa Park’s 3.1-mile course, Nacouzi knew running hard over the first mile, including a steep hill, would sap her strength. She picked up the pace to move up from seventh, tackled the hill on the last mile and battled Lakowske for the third spot.

“I knew the course route more and I tried to plan my pace,” she said. “I based my time off my previous result. The first mile was very, very fast. We all found it difficult. Pacing is very important.”
While she set out to run a six-minute mile pace, Nacouzi had more fuel, much as she did a week ago in winning the West Regionals at Mt. San Antonio College, in Walnut. She was eighth in that race a year ago.

“I knew I was better than last year based on the West Regionals. Before, I wasn’t too sure,” she said. “It’s great to make it to this level.”

Nacouzi is another in a line of Empire runner to capture the West title. The others were: 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.

The top 10 runners from four regions compete in the national finals. Nacouzi was the top finisher for the West. The Midwest was first, the Northeast second, the West third and the South fourth.
Making the finals meant flying to San Diego Thursday and a stay at the historic Hotel Del Coronado.

With a room on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Coronado Island, Nacouzi had time to relax and prepare for her final high school cross country race.

“Once you get to a high level, everybody was happy just to be here,” Nacouzi said. “It’s my senior year and it ended well.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or