LA CRESCENTA — The opportunity afforded someone like Ayla Ataya is the reason why the Crescenta Valley Cross Country Summer Series is held.
“We hold the races so people in the community can come out and run,” said event director Mark Evans, who is also the boys’ and girls’ cross country and track and field coach at Crescenta Valley High. “We have the high school kids who also come and runners a bit younger. But we also have some athletes in their 20s through even their 50s taking part; it’s really for everyone.”
PHOTOS: Crescenta Valley Cross Country Summer Series
The third and final series event took place Wednesday and, although she didn’t win either of the three-mile or two-kilometer races that were held, Ataya proved to be a crowd favorite and had many competitors and spectators in awe.
Just 6 years old, Ataya navigated the often challenging Crescenta Valley Park course with no problem. Alongside her father, Mario, the youngster finished the race in a respectable 34 minutes 1.44 seconds. She even sprinted down the chute to the finish line, smiling all the way.
More shy than tired following her three-mile effort, Ataya left the talking to her father.
“She does do track and field and she just likes to run — go figure,” Mario Ataya said. “She has run three miles before, but this is her first official race. I run marathons myself and she just likes to come out and run with me. She has been running since she was 4 and she really enjoys it.”
More than 80 runners of varying ages took part in the two races Wednesday. Host Crescenta Valley had a large contingent of runners, as did Pacific League rival Burbank and nearby Bellarmine-Jefferson.
“The longer race is run on our full three-mile course,” Evans said. “The other race is kind of shorter and is for people who might not want to run the full three miles and it’s perfect for the younger kids and brothers and sisters, maybe family members or neighbors of some of the athletes. It is something fun that they can do.
“Our first meet is Sept. 4, so this is a good opportunity for our Crescenta Valley athletes to race on our course and get in a good workout.”
Burbank High Coach Trevor Marca said he had a specific reason for bringing his team to the event.
“This is the course where the Pacific League finals will take place,” said Marca of the event that will be held Nov. 6. “We wanted to give them their first look at the course and get the opportunity to see what they will be up against at league finals.”
The Bulldogs did well in the three-mile race, as athletes from Burbank occupied nine of the first 18 spots. The race was won my Bulldogs assistant coach Michael Thatcher, who finished in 16:43.28, just ahead of Burbank runner Enrique Vizcaino, who clocked 16:46.75.
Crescenta Valley’s Robbie McNelis notched third place in 16:49.59.
Finishing first among the female runners in the race was Burbank’s Candela Fernandez, the reigning All-Area Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year. The junior placed 13th in 17:46.96. In a race with nothing at stake, Fernandez’ time was less than 18 seconds off the official course record of 17:18 set by Hoover standout Anita Siraki in 2000.
“I wanted to push myself today,” said Fernandez, who advanced to the Masters Meet in the 1,600 meters in May. “When we were here two weeks ago, we really didn’t go out and push it, but today we wanted to get the feel of an actual race. It was more of learning the strategy of the course and what to remember for the next time that we run here.”
The top finisher for the Falcons was Crescenta Valley’s Megan Melnyk, who was 34th in 20:02.06.
“Although this isn’t a serious race, we definitely push ourselves,” Melnyk said. “It’s nice to be able to use it as an indicator to kind of see how we’re doing with the season coming up. It’s still a race, absolutely, but it’s not like it’s a league meet or anything like that. We’re trying our best, but there’s not that pressure.”
In the two-kilometer race, the winner was Bell-Jeff’s Grayson Goss, who crossed the finish line in 7:38.18. Guards runners took the top four places. The top female result was a third-place finish of 7:50.03 by Bell-Jeff’s Valarie Zavala. Erik Faeustle of Rosemont Middle School placed fifth in 8:18.34.
“This was just fun for me,” Goss said. “I just didn’t want to push too hard and I just wanted to go out there and see what I could do. I haven’t run on over two months, so I actually I felt great out there.”