2008 All-Area Girls' Cross-Country ?Athlete of the Year:

When Michelle Callister began her days with the Crescenta Valley High cross-country program, she was a freshman on a varsity squad poised to begin a tradition.

Three seasons later, Callister has been a focal point in the Falcons’ girls’ program becoming one of the most well-regarded in all of California.

Upon her senior-year curtain call, Callister led a flock of Falcons that proved a throng of naysayers wrong by holding strong to its Pacific League crown and status as one of the state’s best.

And by season’s end, Callister had established herself as the best runner on the best team in the area, making her a unanimous choice as the All-Area Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year as voted by the editors and sportswriters of the Crescenta Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.

“Personally, I’m very happy [with this season],” Callister said. “This year, I came in just wanting to do my best and improve my times, and I was able to do that.”

Callister’s four years running on the Crescenta Valley cross-country team might best be characterized by improvement.

“She’s been very successful,” Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans said. “The big thing is just continuing to improve. She decided she wanted to be a runner.

“She’s definitely improved every year. And she’s not done.”

Example enough comes in her performances at the meet that every squad Callister has been a part of has been driven to qualify for.

As a freshman having helped Crescenta Valley qualify for its first-ever state berth, Callister was victimized by the massive field, stumbling early in the race at Woodward Park and never fully recovering. She would finish 113th in 20 minutes 13 seconds, the sixth Falcon to cross the finish.

A season later, she dropped nearly a minute off her time, finishing 43rd in 19:18 as her team’s No. 3 finisher, the same result as her junior season, when she once again improved her time, knocking off 17 seconds.

As a senior, she dropped below the 19-minute mark, clocking 18:27 to take 25th in the race as her team’s frontrunner.

“When I was a freshman, I set the goal of wanting to make it to state all four years,” she said. “I was really excited [when it finally happened].”

Added excitement came in the fact that a steady stream of doubt followed the 2008 Falcons, as they were without Claire Collison and Rachel Lange, both of them state standouts that had keyed Crescenta Valley’s rise to the top.

But with Callister and fellow senior Carlotta Pham leading the way, the Falcons kept up their burgeoning tradition, taking home another league title, finishing third at the Southern Section finals and sixth at the CIF-State Meet.

“We gotta keep it going,” she said of her and her teammates feelings as they related to maintaining the tradition. “A lot of this year was the girls in the past helping push us along.”

Just as much incentive was dealing with all the doubters.

“We were able to prove everybody wrong,” she said.

Individually, Callister was also able to cash in on a long-term goal when she won the Pacific League title at Arcadia Park.

“I was just amazed, ‘Oh my God, I actually did it,’” she recalled.

It was a goal she’d made for herself back in the autumn of 2005. It was one of the few things that has not changed as it related to Callister’s running.

“My freshman year, I was just running because, in middle school, I was good at it,” Callister said. “Now, I run because I love it. I’ve learned how I need to run races.”

She also learned how to lead races.

Coming into the season, Evans thought the Falcons’ top runner could be Callister or Pham or Megan Doeding or Anneke Kakebeen. But by year’s end, Callister had become a mainstay as Crescenta Valley’s top finisher.

“I knew she had that ability and I was pleased to see she stepped up and used it,” Evans said. “That’s what I was the most pleased with, is she had the confidence in her abilities to go out and do that.”

And now, Callister leaves quite a legacy herself.

She led her team to its sixth consecutive league title and, for a fifth straight year, assured that a Falcon won the individual crown, as well. And ultimately, she led the way to a fourth straight CIF-State appearance, the only Falcon able to say she ran in Fresno four years in a row.

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