The final hour of the CIF State Championships schedule turned into the finest hour in the cross-country career of Village Christian junior Mia Barnett, as well as the most significant showcase for the Burbank High boys’ team.
Burbank had five athletes move up at least 10 spots in the final mile at Woodward Park on Saturday, rallying for fifth place in the Division I boys’ championship with 181 points, the best finish in program history.
Barnett, a La Crescenta resident, lowered her personal best on the 5-kilometer course at by more than 20 seconds to secure runner-up honors in the Division V girls’ final for the second year in a row by clocking 17 minutes, 58.3 seconds.
After the Flintridge Prep and Crescenta Valley boys’ teams couldn’t duplicate similar success from their performances at the Southern Section championship meet Nov. 23 in Riverside, Burbank took advantage of its opportunity by demonstrating tenacity and mental toughness to complete its comeback from being in ninth place at the mile mark in the Division I final.
The Bulldogs had three athletes finish in the top 50, led by senior Victor Goli, who improved 20 spots in the final mile to place 14th in 15:20.7.
“It’s still kind of hard to believe. It’s just so much at once taking it all in,” Goli said. “I was trying to get as close to 15:10 as possible, so I’m really happy. It’s insane to think what we all accomplished. It’s very cool for all of us seniors to go out like this.”
Burbank had finished sixth in Division II in the 2000 state competition, tying for fifth with Concord De La Salle, but enduring a tough setback on a sixth-runner tiebreaker. That Bulldogs’ lineup had only one athlete, Thomas Harley placing 18th in 15:52, eclipse the 16-minute mark.
There was no such drama Saturday, with the Bulldogs producing four individuals that ran under 16 minutes, including senior Anthony Chiaravalle finishing 36th in 15:39.7, junior Andres Leon placing 50th in 15:46.2 and senior Dayne Ellis taking 61st in 15:54.4.
“We’ve talked all season long about ‘Sisu,’” said Burbank coach Kathryn Nelson, referring to a Finnish term that characterizes stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery and resilience.
“You work hard for days like this, entire seasons and careers go into creating moments and opportunities like we had [Saturday]. To watch them do it, being strong in the face of adversity and stepping up when they were called upon, I couldn’t be any more proud of them.”
Junior Tyler Jenkins was 88th (16:11.7) and seniors Steven Wright (16:18.5) and Tadeh Shanazari (16:56.8) were 102nd and 155th, respectively, for the Bulldogs, who relied on heavier volume during summer training with Burbank legend Jeff Nelson, Kathryn’s husband, to spark a turnaround from placing 30th in its own division at the Southern Section prelims last season.
“We wanted to be on the line [Saturday], that was our goal the whole season,” Goli said. “During the summer, we had a total change in mentality, so it’s just nice to see that 100-mile week we put in at the end of July all paid off. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my entire life.”
Burbank was 21st in the overall merge of 101 schools with its 2000 performance. The Bulldogs found themselves 10th out of 118 teams Saturday, including fifth among all Southern Section programs, one week after placing fourth in its own division at the section final in Riverside.
“When they showed me the merge, it almost seemed unreal,” Nelson said. “You dream about these days. There have been some rough moments along the way, but when you have days like this, you don’t get another one for a long time, so it’s important to really cherish it.
“It’s so surreal that I’m wondering if I keep walking around, will I wake up from this wonderful dream? I don’t even know where to go with this one. I’ll definitely be able to live off of this one for a while.”
The Bulldogs also clocked a program-record team time of 78:52.7, becoming the third Pacific League program to break the 79-minute mark at Woodward Park, joining the 2017 Crescenta Valley squad that ran 78:28.5 at the ASICS Clovis Invitational and the 2014 Burroughs lineup that clocked 78:50.8 and placed fourth in the Division I state final.
“We weren’t training for the middle of the season, we were always focusing on state,” Goli said. “But the way we performed at [Nike Portland XC] and Mt. SAC, it taught us what it meant to be tough during races. Every time we approached a tough course with a great mentality, we ran exceptionally well.”
Burbank also elevated to the No. 38 all-time school ever to run at Woodward Park, with the top six teams in Saturday’s race all part of that prestigious list, in addition to ranking 29th among Southern Section programs all-time on the course.
“I can’t say enough about how big of a help Jeff has been. He’s strong in areas where I’m weak and he pushed this season where I might have backed off and that made all the difference,” Kethryn Nelson said. “All season long we’ve talked about being a third-mile team. We’ve been putting in the base all summer, and it came together ]Saturday]. They deserve to have the spotlight on them. They earned it.”
The Southern Section’s Great Oak won the Division I race with a team-total of 46 points. Burbank finished with 181.
Crescenta Valley appeared primed for its second top-five finish in Division I in three years, especially after placing runner-up at the Nov. 23 Southern Section final. But the Falcons finished ninth with 238 points. Unlike Burbank, the Falcons couldn’t mount a comeback after coming through the first mile in 10th.
Senior Dylan Wilbur led Crescenta Valleyby placing 23rd in 15:29, one of three Falcons under 16 minutes, with senior Erik Faeustle finishing 38th in 15:40.5.
Junior Max Burton was 67th in 15:57.3, sophomore Rowan Fitzgerald took 89th in 16:11.8 and junior Chris Cubias finished 103rd in 16:18.8 for the Falcons, who also had junior Jack Myers (16:26.8) and sophomore Bryce Bitetti (16:32.6) compete.
Flintridge Prep was looking to add to its state record for team podium finishes with a top-three result in the Division V boys final, but the Rebels couldn’t build off the momentum of an eighth section championship and placed fifth with 183 points, relying on a sixth-runner tiebreaker to prevail against Midland.
Juniors Hudson Billock (16:21.9) and Bennett Oakes (16:24.1) were 21st and 22nd, respectively, for Flintridge Prep, which now shares the all-time podium record at 16 with the Dana Hills boys — runner-up in Division II — and San Francisco University girls — second place in Division V.
Nolan Costin (16:50.3) took 39th and fellow junior Andrew Odom (17:11.3) finished 76th, with senior Daniel Kotlyar (17:17.6) placing 88th for the Rebels, who improved from 10th place after the first mile.
Senior Grady Morrissey (17:24.5) was 96th and sophomore Dominick Schrader (17:31.4) took 109th for Flintridge Prep, which missed the podium for the third year in a row after a runner-up finish in 2016.
Barnett competed in the final girls’ race of the meet and squared off for the first time in her career against St. Helena junior Harper McClain.
Although Barnett managed to remain within a second of McClain following the first mile, the gap widened to 25 seconds at the 2.1-mile mark. McClain went on to win in 17:13.4, marking the 11th consecutive year a North Coast Section female athlete has captured the Division V state title.
“I knew I was going to have a big challenge coming into it, so I knew I wanted to tackle staying with Harper. It went out really fast and I got tired, but I’m happy that I did better than last year,” said Barnett, who ran 18:19.7 last season to earn her first all-state honor.
“I’m glad there is a progression from year to year of me doing better on this course. I try to work on my own race and keep a good pace going. I really didn’t know what pace I was running at to be honest, so I was just making sure I was keeping my second-place spot.”
Barnett, a three-time Southern Section champion, held off St. Margaret’s freshman Liesel Blau (18:00) to become the first local female athlete since Flintridge Prep’s Sophie Gitlin (2015-17) to earn Division V All-State recognition in consecutive years.
McClain and Barnett also became the sixth and seventh individuals in the 24-year history of the Division V girls state final to run under 18 minutes and the first pair to achieve the feat in the same year.
“In general, I’ve kind of been training for my whole season and making sure I hit every race well, but I’m thinking next year, maybe focusing more on the last couple of races and being a really elite cross-country runner,” Barnett said. “I need to train specifically for the state race.”
La Canada junior Ellaney Matarese, an individual qualifier in Division IV after placing 15th at the section championship meet, found herself in 44th at the mile mark and ended up finishing in 30th in 18:50.3.
Matarese, a three-time state finalist, improved from 57th place last season in 19:39.1.