ARCADIA — It looked bleak for Crescenta Valley High’s Zack Torres through much of the Pacific League cross-country finals race at Arcadia County Park.
And for a Falcons’ girls’ squad undergoing a major transition at the front, there was a wealth of doubt at the beginning of the season, as well.
But when the league cross-country season concluded on Thursday afternoon, it finished much like it did a year ago.
Falcons senior Michelle Callister won her first league individual crown while leading Crescenta Valley to its sixth in a row and Torres dominated en route to his second straight individual league title.
“It was a tough race,” said Callister, who battled Arcadia’s Catrina McAlister for most of the 3-mile race until pulling away just before the finish line for a time of 17 minutes 27.68 seconds, while McAlister finished in 17:31.05. “It was gonna come down to a hard finish. I just went for it, hoping to do my best.
“I’m very, very happy.”
Callister was the first of six Falcons in the top eight, as Crescenta Valley, the second-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division I, tallied 23 points to second-place Arcadia’s 40. Burbank (87) and Burroughs (98) finished third and fourth, respectively, as the top four teams advanced to next week’s CIF Prelims at Mount San Antonio College.
On the boys’ side, Arcadia, ranked third in Division I, claimed the team title with 28 points and five top-nine runners, while Burroughs (53) locked down its first Pacific League second-place finish and Crescenta Valley (77) pulled past Burbank (96) for third place on the year.
Still, it was Torres who was the highlight, as he sprinted to a course record with a mark of 14:28.58 after trailing for most of the race and giving a slew of spectators some false hope.
“We pretty much figured it was gonna go out fast and it got all of [the spectators] pretty excited,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans. “Zack was just under control and knew exactly what he was doing.”
Torres finished nearly eight seconds in front of Arcadia’s Renaud Poizat (14:36.25), who dictated the pace early on, leading a front-running pack of himself, Torres, Burroughs’ Western Nelson (third, 14:41.55) and Arcadia’s Ammar Moussa (fourth, 14:50.79) through the first two miles of the race.
“I knew in my head what I wanted to do,” said Torres, the two-time reigning All-Area Boys’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year. “Once they were in front it was all mental.
“I was just watching [Poizat’s] legs to make sure he didn’t get too far ahead. With that last mile to go, I just took off.”
Nelson was able to keep pace for the entire race, leading the Indians to an impressive second-place mark.
“There’s just so much talent in this league, I’m just so happy to go out and compete with some of the best around,” Nelson said. Crescenta Valley and Burbank had split third-place finishes in the previous league meets before the Falcons took third on Thursday to secure the spot.
“The kids ran a great race as a team,” Evans said. “We did a great job.”
Senior Neil Jones picked off his share of opponents en route to finishing 12th in 15:48.79, while Falcons teammate Michael Duncan, a freshman, took 17th in 15:55.28.
After Torres, though, the biggest individual boys’ highlight came with Hoover senior Brian Trejo, who took fifth in 15:01.61.
“This is the race I’ve been dreaming about for all four years at Hoover,” Trejo said. “I guess I can thank all the fast people ahead of me. ...They really pushed me.”
Trejo led Hoover to a sixth-place finish (173), while Glendale (138) took fifth, led by Nick Wagner’s 16th-place mark of 15:54.74.
On the girls’ side, Callister and teammate Carlotta Pham have been jockeying back and forth all season, but in the league final, it was Callister who took the title and Pham who led a flock of five consecutive Falcons past the finish line.
“I think Michelle really stepped up and had a great race,” Evans said. “Michelle really was able to hold it.
“I think the idea of pushing the pace ... and not letting anyone settle really helped.”
Pham took fourth in 17:49.94 just ahead of Anneke Kakebeen (fifth, 18:01.38), Claudia Pham (sixth, 18:02.99), Megan Doeding (seventh, 18:39.44) and Eliza Collison (eighth, 18:50.53).
“We did a good job of moving up and staying patient,” said Evans, whose team lost state standouts Claire Collison and Rachel Lange to graduation, but hasn’t stumbled a bit in holding on to its lofty perch. “It’s [mostly] the same girls. They kind of got overlooked [in years past].”
Hoover’s girls, paced by Katherine Brouwer (20th, 19:56.37), finished fifth with 140 points, while Glendale (159) took sixth, with Frances Pasamba taking 16th in 19:28.20.
Up next is the CIF prelims on Nov. 15, and the Falcons are full of high hopes.
“We’re hoping to be on an upswing where we keep on getting better,” Evans said.