Thousand Oaks High’s girls’ cross country team is off to a fast start, literally and figuratively.
Behind a strong starting unit of Melanie Joerger, twin sisters Ashton and Kalin Padberg, Caitlin Turner and Genevieve Johnson, the Lancers are ranked No. 8 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2 coaches’ poll.
Rachel Smiley, a junior, is also working hard to find her niche in the Lancer varsity lineup.
“ They are very mentally tough,” said Keena Carstensen, a first-year head coach who served as an assistant coach at TOHS for the previous 13 years.
“They have a strong desire to go out and win.”
Joerger is a fierce competitor who is ruthless on the trails.
The senior standout reached the state cross country meet as an individual last fall.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “We focused on the team. There’s a team focus again this year. I want to go there with my team.”
Like many of her teammates, Joerger ran the fastest race of her career at the season-opening Woodbridge Classic, completing the course in 17 minutes, seven seconds.
Joerger finished second in the rated race and 14th overall among all girls.
The senior relishes competing in big events, including this weekend’s Clovis Invitational, site of the state meet, and the postseason.
“I like pressure,” she said.
Joerger got the racing bug from her older brother, Kevin, who starred at TOHS and now runs at Loyola Marymount.
Melanie Joerger was on junior varsity as a freshman. Watching her brother’s success only ignited her desire to excel.
An honors student with a 4.3 grade-point average, Joerger is thinking about running at LMU and studying business or math.
Ashton Padberg is a four-year varsity runner.
A senior captain, Ashton Padberg finished Woodbridge in 17:55, a personal record.
“It’s been really fun,” she said. “The team’s come a long way. The whole team dynamic is better. We all want to work hard for each other.”
Ashton Padberg is looking forward to facing Marmonte rival Simi Valley on Thurs., Oct. 13 in a tri-team road meet against the Pioneers and Moorpark.
Simi Valley is ranked No. 1 in the CIF-SS Division 2 poll.
“They’re some of the nicest girls we race against,” the captain said of the Pioneers. “They’re friendly people. We all know how hard it is. It’s easy to appreciate everyone’s hard work.”
An honors student with a 4.3 GPA, Ashton Padberg is leaning toward running at the University of San Diego.
The Lancers are looking forward to a promising postseason.
“Getting to state is our motivation right now,” the senior said.
“Division 2’s gotten a lot more competitive this year. It’s one of the fastest sections in the country. It’s a bigger challenge, but we finally have a shot at it.”
Kalin Padberg, another fouryear varsity runner, said the Lancers are trying to get the pack closer to Joerger up at the front of the lineup. They’re running closer all the time and trust each other for support, she said.
“We’re just warming up,” she said.
Kalin Padberg has enjoyed running with her sister for the past seven years. They started at age 10 with the Newbury Park Track Club.
The sport’s grueling nature is also what makes it attractive.
“It’s never going to be easy,” Kalin Padberg said. “That’s why we love it.”
The honors student with a 4.3 GPA said the core four seniors have “come a long way together.”
“We trust each other so much,” she said. “No matter how hard a day is, we can still laugh and get what we need to done.”
Turner, a senior, played soccer for eight years. She starred on the Lancer varsity soccer team as a freshman until a hairline fracture in her ankle ended her season prematurely.
With soccer out of the picture, Turner gave cross country a try as a sophomore.
Although shin splints have hampered her in the early going, Turner is a strong runner.
There’s a lot she’s excited about.
“I’m most anxious for the CIF finals. That’s the big one that will get us to state,” the senior said.
“We’re training every day for that meet.”
Turner is also a track standout.
She reached the state track and field meet as a sophomore in the 800-meter race. She was one second away from making a return trip to Fresno in the spring.
The Lancer is thinking about running and studying sports medicine at Oregon State.
Johnson, a junior, made a giant leap this offseason to close the Grand Canyon gap between the senior core and the rest of the lineup, according to Carstensen.
“I have improved quite a bit,” Johnson said. “I have to keep working.”
Johnson fared well in her first race as a freshman, and her times steadily improved when the competition around her got faster.
The junior finds motivation from teammates.
“Other people depend on me and are counting on me,” said Johnson, an honors student. “If I give up, I’m letting them down.
“I’m excited for the team getting far. A lot of people are improving, not just the top runners. Everybody matters.”
Not only are the Lancers fast, but they’re a close group.
“The most important thing is we’re not just a team—we’re best friends,” Turner said.
“We hang out every weekend. We go on hikes. We do everything together. There’s no way we could get through the training without each other.”