Rebounding and rebuilding

GLENDALE — Shortly after claiming its seventh straight Pacific League title in dramatic fashion, the Crescenta Valley High girls' cross-country team felt the opposite end of the spectrum as its 2009 season ended at the CIF prelims, a streak of four straight trips to the CIF-State meet concluding in the process.

For Flintridge Prep, an eight-season mark of state ascension went to the wayside, and for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, the follow-up to its best-ever fifth-place mark in state was a disappointing ninth place in the CIF Southern Section Division IV finals.

Thus, for the area's top three girls' cross-country squads, it seems as if 2010 is a season of rebounding and rebuilding.

Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans, for one, is leaning toward rebounding, as the bulk of his team returns, including reigning All-Area Girls' Runner of the Year Claudia Pham, whose absence at the end of the season last year due to injury largely made the league finals interesting and the CIF postseason brief.

"Ultimately, CIF finals and see if we can get in the top seven and get to state, that's what we want to do," said Evans, who returns Pham, Brooke Moultrie, Cali King, Anneke Kakebeen and perhaps an injured Ali Johnson, all of which were top-five runners at one time or another last season. "My feeling is that if we stay healthy and run like we're capable, I think we'll be right there in the mix in Division I."

As for an eighth-straight league title, it's likely Arcadia, led by league champion Catrina McAlister, will once more be the Falcons' top challenger.

"I know they're coming after us," Evans said. "We have to keep as many people as possible between Catrina and their No. 2."

For both Prep and Sacred Heart, uphill battles loom ahead with state heavyweights leading their leagues.

Sacred Heart is likely to have most of its top runners back, including juniors Stephanie Vargas and Amanda Aguilar.

However, reigning league champion Harvard-Westlake returns six of its top seven runners, including state individual champion Cami Chapus, from a team that won the Southern Section and state Division IV titles. Thus, for the Tologs, a repeat as the No. 2 team in the Mission League is a safe prediction.

Prep, which took third in the Prep League last season, must contend with Chadwick and Jaye Buchbinder, who won league and Southern Section Division V crowns as a team and individually before second-place marks at state.

But for co-coaches Mike Roffina and Jill Riehl, who's in her first season as co-coach, rebuilding is the definitive word as the Rebels have 14 freshmen in the program.

"It's a brand new world," Roffina said. "We have a very young team and we're rebuilding."

Led by sophomore Kaitlin Kelleher, the Rebels are likely to have some growing pains, but Roffina is optimistic overall.

"We're very young," Roffina said. "We get all the enthusiasm and joy and challenge. We're very encouraged."

It's not all that encouraging for Glendale and Hoover in the Pacific League, though.

Coach Bob Bailey's Nitros, likely to be led by sophomore Fabiola Naranjo, have only two returners with varsity experience.

At Hoover, Coach Jack Sallakian's doing everything he can to get a minimum of five runners on the course, with his best prospect being that of individual success for junior Renee Lawson.

Lastly, Holy Family once more has a new coach, as Danny Hamm steps in for his first season coaching cross-country. The Gaels have already lost CIF qualifier Gladys Hernandez, who decided to focus on academics, but Hamm likes his team's attitude and the promise of twins Briana and Valerie Russo.

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