Remembering 1987: Jorgensen Wins The Day

The photos from 1987 are weathered and faded but history is forever crystal clear in that the first six California Interscholastic Federation State Cross Country individual division champions are (l-r) Bryan Dameworth (Agoura, Division I), Scott Hemple (Walnut, D-II), Reggie Williams (River City, D-III), Katy McCandless (Castilleja, D-III), Kira Jorgensen (Rancho Buena Vista, D-II) and Deena Drossin (Agoura, D-I). (Photos by Keith Conning courtesy of Hank Lawson)

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This is part of a series of articles looking back at the 1987 CIF-State Cross Country Championships, the first in California.

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Asked to sum up her feelings about running in the first California State Cross Country Championship in 1987, Rancho Buena Vista's Kira Jorgensen summed it up succinctly.

"Finally," she said.

A junior at the time, Kira Jorgensen -- now Kira Jorgensen-Abercromby, a married mother of two pre-teenage girls and professor of aeronautical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- said she wondered after her freshman and sophomore years at Vista High, why there wasn't a state meet.

But once she got her shot, she took full advantage after moving with many of her classmates to a brand new school -- Rancho Buena Vista (SD) -- capturing the Division II title over Woodward Park's 3.1-mile course in 17:34, winning by 14 seconds over South Hills' Karen Hecox.

It was the fastest time of the day, one second better than Division I champion Deena Drossin (now Deena Kastor) of Agoura (SS) and 17 seconds quicker than Division III titlist Katy McCandless of Castilleja (CC).

"I had qualified for the Kinney (now Foot Locker) National Championship the previous two years and I remember during the introductions they'd announce that so-and-so was her state champion," said Jorgensen-Abercromby.

"I wondered why we didn't have a state championship -- and then we did."

Because she had competed in the Western Regionals at Woodward Park, she had the distinct advantage of running what she called one of her favorite courses twice before -- obviously with great success.

Her coach, Ed Matheus, said he always took the approach that since everyone was competing over the same facility, prior knowledge wasn't that crucial. So, he spent a little time the day before having the Longhorns teams, boys and girls, which at the beginning of the season he didn't really expect to qualify, get familiar.

"You don't have to tell the kids too much anyway," said Matheus. "The runners were the best in California, what else did you need to say?

"Naturally Kira (who had won the state 1600-meter title in track the spring before) was one of the favorites but we looked at the course, went to eat pizza and spaghetti, and then the next morning got up and ran. I wanted to keep it low key."

Like other coaches, Matheus watched the start, went to the mile mark, walked over to the 2-mile and then raced to a spot about a quarter-mile from the finish.

"I knew at the mile she'd win," he said. "I just let her run, I treated her like the rest of the team. Her biggest strength was her mental toughness. It was like you'd wind her up and turn her loose. If another girl moved up on Kira, she'd have to face that mental toughness.

"Obviously, Kira was an extremely bright young lady and she just did things naturally. I never worried about her."

Jorgensen-Abercromby said winning in the first-ever State Meet was a big deal to her, even though she'd return the next year in Division I when RBV finally had seniors, beating Montebello's Rayna Cervantes and Drossin in 17:42.

"Even though our section was still only running 2.4 miles in the championship and even 2.1 miles in some meets, which really didn't make sense, we did run Mt. SAC in 1987, so I'd seen my main competition and I'd run 3.1 miles," said Jorgensen-Abercromby.

"Running for the state championship was very exciting for me. I remember the weather was perfect and what made it so special was I got to run with my teammates just as I had all year. Kinney was an individual thing, although it was really fun to be part of the West team with runners like Deena now on my team."

Of course, there had to be some drama.

When the girls were getting dressed in their motel room, two of them discovered they'd left their uniforms at home.

"Coach always told us we only had to remember two things -- our uniform and shoes," she recalled. "There was a rule that everyone had to have the same uniform and while we could buy shoes if we forgot them, not uniforms.

"One of the dads got there before the race (after driving up from San Diego). Maybe it was my Hollywood memory, but I recall we made a circle around the two girls and they changed right at the starting line."

Jorgensen-Abercromby, unlike her coach, waited until later in the race to celebrate the victory.

"I didn't think I had it won until I crossed the finish line," she said. "During the race I could hear three voices distinctly -- my coach, my dad and my sister.  You could hear the crowd, but you weren't sure how close anyone was and it was drilled into us never to look back.

"I never took a race for granted, I just went out there and put it on the line. We had such great support from the school that wanted to make a name for itself in something other than football."

Jorgensen-Abercromby would capture the Kinney West Regional the next week and before a huge home crowd at Balboa Park two weeks later, she won the Kinney National title, completing an unbeaten year.

She would go on to have a successful running career at UCLA and did her graduate work in Colorado before joining NASA.

"I loved running then and I love running now," said Jorgensen-Abercromby. "Has it really been 33 years?"

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Share your memories of the 1987 State Meet

Were you an athlete, coach, organizer who took part in the first CIF-State Cross Country Championships in 1987? We'd love to share your memories of that meet and that experience. Feel free to email