Torres leads aspiring area contenders

GLENDALE — With the air quality seemingly no longer a problem and Southern California blazes quelled, area cross-country runners are looking to set forth upon the CIF Southern Section finals with no distractions but their opponents on Saturday morning.

“It’s a big day,” said Flintridge Prep boys’ Coach Ingrid Herskind, who leads her Rebels into the Division V race as one of six local squads hoping to climb into the CIF hierarchy and, at the same time, advance to next week’s CIF-State Meet in Fresno.

But first comes Mount San Antonio College and the prestigious three-mile course that was shortened for some during last weekend’s preliminaries due to the nearby Yorba Linda fires.

While six teams look for stellar days, just one individual has advanced — Crescenta Valley High’s Zack Torres.

The two-time All-Area Boys’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year and the reigning News-Press Male Athlete of the Year, Torres enters Saturday’s Division I race as the top-ranked runner in Division I in the state, according to Dyestat.

“Obviously he’s in the race to win it, that’s Zack,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans of his senior standout. “There’s some other good people in there, but I think Zack is just as capable as any of them.”

Torres, who finished third in the Division I Individual Sweepstakes race at the Mt. SAC Invitational earlier this year, but was first on the day among true Division I runners in a time of 14 minutes 50 seconds, must deal with the likes of Tyler Valdes of Dana Hills, James Cameron of Mission Viejo and Pedro Zaragoza of Lancaster.

“He’s gotta run a smart race and stay within himself and make that move when he knows it’s right,” said Evans of Torres, who traditionally has done his best to keep pace with the frontrunners early on before moving up during the latter stages of the race. “He has very good racing instincts.”

Torres, who finished fifth in the finals last year, runs in the first race of the day at 7:45 a.m., while the Crescenta Valley girls’ team starts at 8:25 a.m. in the Girls’ Division I race.

“We’d really like to be in the top two,” said Evans, whose Pacific League-champion Falcons are ranked second in the division behind Dana Hills and took seventh last season. “That’s where we’re ranked. We’ve got as good a shot as anybody.

“It’d be nice to come home with a plaque, that’s always the goal.”

A top-seven finish grants a team passage to state, while the top two finishers are bestowed CIF plaques. For that to happen, Evans believes frontrunners Michelle Callister, the Pacific League champion, and Carlotta Pham, the team’s first finisher at the Mt. SAC invite, will not only have to have good races, but the three through five runners must be in top form, as well.

“The key is to go out and be controlled and know what our job is and execute that,” Evans said. “Our strength is the pack.”

The same philosophy holds true for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, the Mission League titlist seeking an unprecedented second straight trip for the program to Woodward Park for the state finals when it runs in the Division IV Girls Race at 9:25 a.m.

“We want to qualify obviously, that’s our immediate goal,” said Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama, whose team is ranked eighth in Division IV. “Our top goal is to get top five, but our ultimate goal is to qualify for state.”

Led by Andrea Kropp and Erin Hartwig, the Tologs, who took fourth in last year’s meet, will only be as successful as their No. 3, 4 and 5 runners.

“We need to close the gap,” Nishiyama said.

Herskind hopes her Rebels can close the gap between them and defending champion Woodcrest Christian when the rivals battle in the Division V Boys Race at 9:45 a.m.

“I’d really like to do that, they’re an incredible team, we definitely respect them greatly,” said Herskind, whose team is led by Paul Weitekamp and Conner Verreaux. “I feel like we’re ready to go after them.”

For that to happen, Herskind believes the Rebels must put it all together for the first time this season.

“We’ve kind of all been sporadically hitting,” she said. “It’d really be great for us all to be hitting on the same day.

“I think if we we’re able to do that it would be pretty significant.”

St. Francis, led by Kyle Palazzolo, will take part in the Division IV Boys Race at 10:25 a.m., while the Dot Silverman-led Rebels’ girls’ team will run in the last race of the day at 10:45 a.m. in Division V.

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