Flintridge Prep cross-country squads run to Prep League titles in record times

WOODLAND HILLS — Flintridge Prep’s girls’ cross-country team found itself in a nailbiting battle for a title.

The Rebels’ boys’ squad found itself in the midst of an easy, cool morning run.

But when both crossed the finish line at Pierce College on Saturday morning at the Prep League finals, they emerged with the same distinction of Prep League champions.

PHOTOS: Flintridge Prep cross-country squads land Prep League champion titles

Led by league individual champion Jack Van Scoter, the Rebels’ boys’ team cruised to a dominant triumph with 16 points to second-place Pasadena Poly’s 50, turning in a meet record team time of 79 minutes flat, which broke the previous mark of 81:25 held by the 2008 Rebels.

The Natalie O’Brien-led girls’ contingent, however, emerged from what was arguably the greatest Prep League girls’ final ever with a narrow 30-36 win over Mayfield in a race in which both teams ran past the previous team-time standard for the meet.

“The plan all week was to be electric when we got out here,” said Flintridge Prep girls’ co-Coach Jill Riehl, who pilots the team along with Mike Roffina. “This is the first time I’ve seen every single person go into the race with a strategy and execute. Pacing was right on, packing was right on.”

Flintridge Prep secured its second consecutive league title as O’Brien led the way with a second-place finish of 18 minutes 26 seconds, trailing only winner Emily Serhan (18:07) of Mayfield.

Serhan’s mark set a new Prep League girls’ standard as she and O’Brien broke the previous record of Poly’s Evan Gancedo of 18:33 in 2012.

Both Prep, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division V, and Mayfield, the No. 2-ranked squad, also toppled the meet’s previous all-time team time of 96:37 set by the Rebels last season.

Flintridge Prep combined for a 95:21 run to Mayfield’s 95:49.

Saturday was the first and only Prep League meet of the season, which was a change from past years, but the Rebels and Mayfield were competing against each other for the fourth time, with Prep evening up the competition.

“They’re an awesome team,” O’Brien said of Mayfield, “and it was pretty cool to beat them. It’s great to run against them so much.”

Mayfield’s Marisa Sanchez followed O’Brien across in 18:41 at third, as the top three runners broke away for much of the race, but the Rebels put their top five finishers in front of the Cubs’ No. 4 runner.

“It was a really good race,” O’Brien said. “Everybody did well.”

Maia Cohen (fourth, 18:54) and Ashley Lara (fifth, 18:59) began to turn the tide at the finish for Prep, which trailed by three points around the first mile of the 2.91-mile course and then took a four-point advantage at the two-mile mark.

Flintridge Prep’s Lacy Coan then crossed the line at ninth in 19:23 with teammate Gabriela Bennett closing out the top 10 and the Rebels’ scoring five at 19:39. For good measure, the Rebels’ No. 6 runner, Marissa Langley, finished 15th in 19:57, just ahead of Mayfield’s final scorer.

There was no such drama for Van Scoter and company, as the Rebels, ranked No. 1 in Division V, took the top four spots and five of the first six on their way to a fifth straight league championship and the program’s 22nd in the last 23 seasons.

“I had a good feeling from the guys when we were warming up,” said Van Scoter, a junior and reigning All-Area selection. “Our coach made sure we stayed focused. Don’t slip up for this meet.”

Van Scoter led the majority of the race and looked at ease when he glided across the finish in 15:34.53.

His time was the third-best in meet history behind the shared standard of 15:18, held by Poly’s Wesley Duvall (2009) and Prep’s Alan Yoho last season, as Van Scoter was the third Rebel in a row to claim the league’s individual crown.

“It was a day at the park for him,” said Rebels Coach Ingrid Herskind of Van Scoter, as he led the Rebels on a day in which they looked to have very calmly and coolly taken care of the business at hand. “That was kind of the order of the day, to stay strong and work on the things we want to work on and stay healthy.”

Shortly behind Van Scoter was Nikhil Poole, who overcame a recent illness to turn in a second-place mark of 15:37 that was good enough for the No. 4 spot all-time for the meet. Continuing the top-four parade was Jonathan Vahala at third in 15:46, in front of fourth-place Riley Coan (15:51).

“There is no set order among them,” Van Scoter said of the Rebels No. 2 through 4 runners, who’ve often traded places this season, “but as long as they put in their ‘A’ game, good things will continue to happen.”

Poly’s Richard Hathaway broke up the Rebels’ monopoly on the first five slots before Evan Pattinelli closed out the Rebels’ scoring with a sixth-place finish of 16:12.

Furthering the magnificence of the Rebels’ day were Rab Moran (ninth, 16:30) and Chris Tan (10th, 16:51), as all seven Flintridge Prep runners finished inside the top 10.

While the levels of drama differed between the boys’ and girls’ races, both teams’ sentiments were similar in terms of the focus very much being one concentrated on the ultimate goal of state glory.

“It officially starts,” Van Scoter said of the postseason. “We’re really excited. We love it; we can’t wait.”

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