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Cross-Country Preview: Abundance of talent for area runners, teams

Photo Gallery: Pacific League cross country finals at Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park
Crescenta Valley High senior cross-country runner Dylan Wilbur will look to lead the Falcons to a third straight Pacific League championship in 2019.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

The Crescenta Valley High’s boys’ cross-country team and both Flintridge Prep squads routinely tore through courses across California last season, culminating in all three programs turning in top-10 finishes at the CIF State Championships in Fresno.

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, St. Francis and Glendale’s boys team all qualified for the postseason and several individuals marched to state in 2018.

There’s expected to be another impressive core of area runners looking to make their marks this season.

New for the Pacific League this season is there will be just two scoring meets, along with a nonscoring league preview meet to be held at De Bell Golf Club in Burbank.

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Here is a closer look at the teams.

CRESCENTA VALLEY

It was a remarkable run turned in by the boys’ program last season. Crescenta Valley won its second straight Pacific League championship and then finished fifth at the CIF Southern Section Division I finals in Riverside. For good measure, the Falcons took eighth in the Division I state met in Fresno’s Woodward Park.

Those efforts have got the Falcons thinking big in 2019 under coach Mark Evans, whose team is ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I poll behind Great Oak.

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“We lost a couple of key pieces in Manan Vats (2018 league champion) and Grant Lauterback,” Evans said. “What I really like is that we’ll have a lot of depth and people who have been putting in the miles and who will provide leadership.

“I think there’s every reason to be excited and we believe we’ll be strong again.”

The Falcons return seniors Dylan Wilbur, the reigning Glendale News-Press Boys’ Athlete of the Year who advanced to state in cross-country and track and field last season, and Erik Faeustle. They will be joined by juniors Chris Cubias, Max Burton and Jack Myers. Wilbur finished second in league in 15 minutes, 37.8 seconds in 2018.

On the girls’ team, Crescenta Valley finished fourth in league last season and qualified for the postseason.

The Falcons will look to spring ahead and move up in league.

“It’s a good group and we’re getting stronger,” Evans said. “We have pretty much everybody back and we’re excited in that we can do better.”

Crescenta Valley will be paced by seniors Sophia Atin, Samantha Moore and Ily Nelson and sophomores Reese Sion, Emma Walch and Rebecca Doherty.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

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Expectations will continue to be high for the Rebels, who have a storied tradition. Though the Rebels will look to continue to dominate in the Prep League and potentially beyond, both squads are ready to make their move having outlined their goals.

The girls’ squad, ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division V poll, won the league title before taking second in the Southern Section Division V finals and third in the Division V state finals last season. Flintridge Prep had won the previous four state crowns in Fresno.

Flintridge Prep will return several key runners, including seniors Liara Morrissey and Natalie Bax and junior Katie Bennett. In last year’s state competition, Morrissey finished 35th in 20:05.1 and Katie Bennett was 158th in 23:27.5 in Division V.

“I think it will be a fun team to watch,” Flintridge Prep coach Jill Henry said. “I have no idea what will happen, but we have a couple of key returners and there are others who have been waiting in the wings to join the team and keep the program heading in the right direction.

“They’ve been putting in the miles. It will be about running in tight packs and trying to drop their times.”

For the boys’ squad, ranked No. 4 in Division V, coach Scott Jung and the Rebels have captured 21 of the last 22 league titles. Flintridge Prep placed second in the Southern Section Division V finals and sixth in the Division V state meet in 2018.

The Rebels will boast returners Bennett Oakes, Hudson Billick, Nolan Costin and Rudy Ruiz, all of whom are juniors. At the 2018 state meet, Oakes took 20th in 16:38.4 and Hudson Billick secured 53rd in 17:20.7.

“We have a good group in place, though our depth isn’t as great as I’d like it to be, so we’ll have to find a way to stay healthy,” Jung said. “There will be other runners who have some experience and others who will look to move up to the varsity level.

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“I expect our division to be very tough again and we’ll do our best and see what happens.”

FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY

The Tologs will look vastly different after finishing second in the Mission League last season behind power Harvard-Westlake.

Flintridge Sacred Heart, which won the league title in 2017, will bring back seniors Lauren Nettels and Chase Hayes and junior Alexandra Christodoulou in its quest to earn a return trip to the postseason.

The Tologs took 12th in the CIF Southern Section Division IV finals last season paced by a a 10th-place finish by Nettels in 18:10.6. She clocked 19:17.1 to place 36th at the state race.

“Lauren will provide us with leadership,” Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Kirk Nishiyama said. “She got a good taste last year regarding what it’s like to compete at a higher level.

“We’ll be looking to fill some spots in our lineup, so it’s an opportunity for the freshmen to develop and try to earn a spot in the lineup.”

ST. FRANCIS

Things appear to be quite promising for the Golden Knights, who return virtually their entire lineup after qualifying for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2011.

St. Francis placed fourth in the rugged Mission League before finishing 21st in the CIF Southern Section Division IV finals last season.

With an experienced and confident core in tact, St. Francis coach Pat Donovan said the Golden Knights are ready to ascend and surpass last year’s accomplishments.

“We’re in a very nice position,” Donovan said. “It’s a blessing to have everybody back and we are more experienced. They’ve been putting in the work.

“We are hoping to move up in league, at least one or even two spots. Lets see where the chips fall.”

St. Francis’ lineup will include seniors Stuart Serventi and Jason Suh, juniors Brady McNulty, Lars Martin, Gabriel Paz and Mark Polenzani and sophomore Tim Parisi.

GLENDALE

It proved to be a successful 2018 season for the boys’ squad, which took fourth in the Pacific League finals and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2005.

The Nitros will bring back some of the athletes from last season’s squad in an effort to return to the postseason. They include senior Chadi Saklaway and juniors Colm Daly and Tristen Bonilla.

“We had heavy graduation losses from last year’s team, but the cupboard is not totally bear,” Glendale coach Bob Bailey said. “We have a proven top runner in Chadi, who was second all-league last year. Colm and Tristen finished strong last year and I hope they continue that trend so that we can minimize our time difference between the three of them.

“We will need to rely on some second tier from last year to step up their game to fill in the rest of the varsity lineup.”

For the girls, Glendale took fifth in league a season ago. The Nitros will rely on a a returning group that features senior Kaley Tien, junior Celeste Orozco and sophomore Monserrat Vazquez.

“Right now, it feels as if we are rebuilding the girls team from scratch,” Bailey said. “Kaley and Celeste are coming off of nagging injuries last year and are just starting to get back on track. Monserrat was put into varsity out of necessity, but I hope the experience will serve her well this year. I will not really know what I got until October.”

HOOVER

A season ago, Hoover’s girls’ and boys’ squads finished sixth and seventh, respectively, at the Pacific League finals.

Though Hoover will look to improve this season, the Tornadoes won’t have much depth.

“We’ve had a low turnout and we’re getting some people to run competitively for the first time,” Hoover coach Jack Sallakian said. “For both teams, there will be an opportunity for them to step up and make the team. We’ll see what we can do.”

The lone returner on the girls’ team will be Gabby Quinones, a senior.

For the boys’ team, Hoover will turn to sophomore Jayson Torres and freshmen Parker Simmons and Godfrey Intiago.

ST. MONICA ACADEMY

The Crusaders will feature a freelance boys’ team under co-coaches Dennis Slavin and Chris Plance.

St. Monica will have a squad that will boast two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and four freshmen.

“They are looking good and they have some racing experience,” Slavin said. “Overall, it’s a very good mix. and we’re excited to compete in our meets.”

The Crusaders will be anchored by senior Rene Urrea, junior Thomas Raleigh and sophomore Manuel de Tezanos Pinto.

HOLY FAMILY

Holy Family, which competes in the Horizon League, recently hired coach Rafael Valenzuela to take over the program.

The Gaels were paced last season by Brianna Cindrich, who finished 61st in her Division V state finals debut in 20:47.6. At the Southern Section Division V finals, Cindrich took 11th (19:09.6).

Valenzuela said Cindrich will most likely miss the beginning of the season to focus on her soccer commitments, but will attend team practices and meets. Valenzuela added it’s possible Cindrich, a senior, might return during the second half of the season.

“She’s a great runner and she’ll be with the program to provide support,” Valenzuela said. “We’ll see what happens.

“Right now, we’re trying to build the program up and we’re starting from scratch. We have some good young talent.”

Expected to lead the pack for Holy Family are senior Maya Devora and sophomore Alina Felix.

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