LA CRESCENTA – A year ago at this time, talk of the postseason was more fanciful wishing than realistic expectation for the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and St. Francis High cross-country programs.
Fast forward one season, however, and a trip to the CIF Southern Section preliminaries seems possible after a breakthrough effort from both programs Tuesday afternoon at their home course of Crescenta Valley Park.
The Tologs finished second at the Mission League's second meet, while the Golden Knights earned fourth place. Should the programs replicate Tuesday's effort at the Nov. 1 league finals back at Crescenta Valley Park, each would earn a ticket to the prelims.
"The Mission League is so good nowadays, but I think we could have done better," Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Kirk Nishiyama said. "We wanted first place, that's what we we're trying to do. We want to win at finals, but the real positive is that we keep getting better."
Last season, the Tologs missed the postseason after a last-place finish, while the squad failed to post a league top-10 runner.
After earning third at the league's first meet at Griffith Park's Crystal Springs course on Sept. 26, the Tologs challenged for a win before being clipped by Immaculate Heart, 54-57.
Flintridge Sacred Heart sophomore Lauren Nettels demonstrated she's one of the league's rising stars by finishing third overall and second among underclassmen in 20 minutes, 35.68 seconds.
While Nettels was not in position to challenge reigning two-time league champion Mariah Moro (first, 19:34.80) of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, the youngster was in second down the final stretch before Marymount's Lucia Perez-Saignac passed her up for silver (20:27.70).
"It's definitely a difficult race because there is some stiff competition," said Nettels, a Glendale resident. "This year we've been pushing really hard and I tried my hardest today. I tried to hold on, but the other girl got me in the last 200 meters. I'll just have to try harder next time."
After Nettels, the Tologs boasted another top-10 placer in junior Samantha Covey, who took 10th in 21:19.99.
Freshman Alexandra Christodoulou took 11th (21:22.04) for Flintridge Sacred Heart, while Alexandra Ehrhart (15th, 21:49.45) and Megan Koehler (18th, 22:01.82) rounded out the Tologs' scoring.
For St. Francis, the last few seasons have seen the team gravitate between fifth and sixth place in league, including last season when the Golden Knights finished sixth.
At the first league meet, the Golden Knights continued that frustrating trend by placing fifth to Chaminade, 118-119.
To the reach the postseason in the seven-team Mission League, a boys' squad needs to place in the top four.
That's why there was plenty of excitement after the Golden Knights finished fourth Tuesday with 113 points in outlasting fifth-place Chaminade (117). Loyola won the race with 15 points, while Harvard-Westlake (58) and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (102) followed.
"For our struggles, this is definitely rewarding," St. Francis coach Pat Donovan said. "These kids are working hard and it's definitely a young program. We have some returners who have taken the younger kids under their wings.
"Maybe the best part is that we didn't run our best. We still have a lot of room for improvement."
Proving Donovan's point was St. Francis' Stuart Serventi. The sophomore ran most of the race with loose footwear before placing 16th in 17:42.94.
"I had some problems with the heat, plus my shoe came untied around the first mile," Serventi said. "It happens, but that's doesn't make me less confident. I think we can really take fourth place [at league finals] this year. That's the goal."
St. Francis added two more top-25 placers in Jason Suh (22nd, 18:21.26), who smashed his previous personal best by 27 seconds, and Brady McNulty (23rd, 18:31.45).