GLENDALE — As seems to be the case most often, last season ended on a high for the Flintridge Prep boys' cross-country team.
However, the journey to Fresno and a third-place finish in the CIF-State Division V finals was hardly brimming with highlights.
"It was a good way to go out, but it was also a great learning experience," Rebels Coach Ingrid Herskind said.
After 17 straight seasons of winning Prep League titles, Flintridge Prep relinquished its crown to archrival Pasadena Poly and then finished an unRebel-like sixth in the CIF Southern Section divisional finals. But, as has been the case so many times before, the Rebels shined brightest on the biggest stage.
"I think it left us with a much better taste in our mouth," said Herskind of her team's state finish saving the season.
Still, if nothing more, all the change of a year ago served as a wake-up call for the Rebels — the area's only state qualifier.
"It was bound to happen sometime," said Herskind of the league-title streak concluding. "I think we were becoming horribly complacent. As bad as it is to lose, I think it was good for us.
"We're a lot different team now because we don't have that title."
And now the quest begins to reclaim it.
Much of the upcoming boys' cross-country season seems to focus around redemption.
Both Crescenta Valley and St. Francis are directed at once more establishing themselves among the hierarchy of their respective leagues rather than as programs edging into a final postseason slot.
And for Glendale and Hoover, it appears the time is now to alter their identities as Pacific League have-nots and vault into postseason status.
"Last year was really a tough year for us," said Falcons Coach Mark Evans of a campaign in which his team took fourth in the Pacific League. "If you would've asked me two months ago, I wouldn't have been so optimistic. Now, I'm really impressed."
Having been most impressive is junior Mike Duncan, returning as the Falcons' No. 1 runner after an All-Pacific League and All-Area junior campaign.
"I think Mike Duncan is looking particularly good," Evans said.
But the key is likely what the Falcons behind Duncan, such as senior Bob Anderson and juniors Brandon Baum and Adam Akopyan, can accomplish.
With reigning league champion Arcadia ranked as one of the top three teams in the nation in some preseason polls, a league crown for the Apaches seems all but inevitable. However, Evans believes his team has the potential to surpass Burroughs and Burbank for the second spot should his team run like it can.
"That's what we want to do and that's what we're aiming for," Evans said. "These guys have really impressed me this summer."
Hoover Coach Jack Sallakian and Glendale Coach Bob Bailey have also been impressed with their boys' squads and believe the second through fourth spots in league are likely up for grabs, with both the Tornadoes and Nitros eyeing postseason ascents.
"The bulk of our core group of runners from last year are back and have greatly improved over the summer," said Bailey, whose team took fifth in league. "It has been awhile, but I believe we have a good shot at one of the top four spots in league this year."
Leading the way will likely be junior Chris Canlas.
Hoover's No. 1 is likely to be Raffy Manvo, who returns for his senior season after a year away from the sport. Others showing promise have been junior mainstay Paul Ingram and junior Daniel Marin, who's balancing cross-country with playing on the Hoover football team.
"He's an incredible athlete," Sallakian said.
Perhaps most surprising is that Sal Vega, who would've likely been Hoover's No. 1, is no longer with the Tornadoes after moving, but Sallakian still believes his team is as good as it's ever been and a surefire bet for the postseason.
"It's probably the fastest team I've ever assembled," Sallakian said. "I have no doubt that we'll make it to CIF this year.
"They really, really want to get Hoover back on the map."
Coach Pat Donovan and St. Francis want to get the Golden Knights back around the top of the Mission League. Like Arcadia in the Pacific League, Loyola is an ultra-dominant force in the Mission League. Though Donovan maintains his ultimate goal is to eventually unseed the mighty Cubs, for now, being realistic, he's hoping the Knights can climb back into the No. 2 spot after slipping to fourth overall last season and finishing fifth at the league finals.
Leading the way will no doubt be senior All-Area and all-league standout Kyle Pallazolo, with seniors Tyler Kawachi and Danny Velladao and junior Collin Peterson returning from last year's scoring five.
"I think that this team has the talent to regain our spot as the second best team in the Mission League," said Donovan, who will have all three league cluster meets at Crescenta Valley Park this season, as the Mission League changes from its prior format of dual meets. "Ultimately it's up to them to open the door.
"It's really important for us to go in with confidence, as well as tenacity."
Toughness and leadership were likely two intangibles lacking a bit for last year's Rebels.
Herskind believes her returners, such as seniors Jason Bunn, Jessie Redding and Taylor Beith have stepped solidly into leadership roles and the team as a whole is, "definitely much tougher."
On the heels of winning a Prep League 3,200 title and advancing to the CIF Division IV track and field finals in the event, Bunn appears poised to take the reins as the lead runner for the Rebs.
"Jason Bunn has put in an incredible summer," Herskind said.
After that, Redding, Beith and Jake Johnson look to be valuable contributors in a top five that Herskind expects to be flexible throughout the season.
It's a season that Herskind has clearly defined as one in which the Rebels are aspiring to once more become a force in the Prep League and beyond.