CHARIOT OF FIRE; SIRAKI IS FIRST FEMALE RUNNING STAR AT HOOVER.
Whether it's luck, coincidence or divine intervention, Hoover High coach Greg Switzer has a history of producing All-American male cross country runners.
This fall, junior Anita Siraki, whom the devoutly religious Switzer calls the answer to his prayers, is on pace to become the Tornadoes' first female runner to earn national accolades.
As a sophomore, Siraki placed fourth in the State Division I championships and 15th in the Foot Locker Western Regional. In track, Siraki captured Southern Section Division I titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. She led the area in the 1,600 meters at 4 minutes, 55.75 seconds and ran the 3,200 meters in 10:30.81.
Siraki is among the favorites for the state title and is expected to contend for a spot on the West team for the Foot Locker national championships. On Saturday, Siraki romped to victory in the Kenny Staub Invitational. She broke her own course record by a minute to win the season-opening Millikan Invitational and had the fastest time in the Woodbridge Invitational.
``Last season, I had no idea of my abilities and making it to state was great,'' she said. ``This year I hope I can win state and make it to nationals. That's my ultimate goal.''
Under Switzer, Hoover has had three runners earn All-American honors in the national championships with Eleazar Hernandez, 11th in 1989; Margarito Casillas, fifth in 1991 and David Lopez, 13th in 1996.
Switzer is thoroughly convinced the Tornadoes' success is a product of his faith in God. Switzer, who coached at Burroughs from 1973-84, had no runner come close to making a national breakthrough until coming to Hoover in 1985.
``It was frustrating because I could never get them past a certain threshold,'' Switzer said. ``It was like a curse until I came to Hoover. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have an athlete become All-American. Then to have another boom, boom in rapid succession is very unusual and defies the laws of probability.''
After Lopez made a late charge to move up four places down the stretch of the 1996 national championships to earn All-American honors, Switzer said he prayed for a highly talented girl.
The next fall Siraki arrived at Hoover after moving in from the Glendale district. Switzer said the flawless form and strong arm action of the diminutive 5-foot-2-1/2 former gymnast immediately caught his eye. ``I asked the Lord if you are pleased with me, can you send me a girl?'' Switzer said. ``If things go well, she should be All-American.''
If Siraki earns All-American honors, Switzer does not know what he will ask for next. Perhaps twins?
Until then, Switzer's main concern is holding the strong-willed Siraki back in training. In September, Siraki logged 105 miles in a week and has been pushing the pace against the boys' team in practice.
``A lot has to do with coaching and the school I'm at,'' she said. ``It has inspired me how Hoover can have so many good runners. It makes me want to work hard and really motivates me in racing. Seeing what everybody has done makes me want to do better.''
Canyon High's Lauren Fleshman, the State Division I cross country and state 3,200-meter champion last season, has also been an inspiration.
Fleshman, now a freshman at Stanford, and Siraki trained together this summer and for the previous two years during Hoover and Canyon's annual training camp at Mammoth. They were also roommates at both the state cross country and track meets. Fleshman said Siraki has been running with newfound confidence since her performance in the state cross country meet.
For the moment, the focus is cross country. Switzer is not emphasizing big-meet performances but stresses getting through the season uninjured. According to Switzer's philosophy, there is a correlation between how fast a runner can go without hurting from practice to high-quality races.
``Her strongest quality is also her weakness,'' Switzer said. ``She is very strong-willed and does not like to lose. It one of those qualities that has its drawbacks and you need to control with a heavy hand. She is a natural talent. My job is to make wise decisions in workouts and things will work out.''
Anita Siraki is a candidate to become Hoover's fourth _ but first female _ cross country All-American in the past decade. A look at the junior's achievements:
Defending Southern Section Division I 1,600 and 3,200-meter champion
1999 Pacific League 800, 1,600 and 3,200 champion
Foot Locker Western Region second-team
Fourth in 1998 State Division I cross country finals.
1998 Pacific League cross country champion
PHOTO Junior Anita Siraki could become the first female at Hoover High to earn All-American cross country honors. Siraki also runs track.
Kirby Lee/Special to the Daily News
Box: Upholding Tradition (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 4, 1999|
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