LA CRESCENTA — Things were a little different, a little crazy and a little chaotic during the initial Mission League cross-country meet of the season on Thursday afternoon at Crescenta Valley Park.
Most of the craziness came down to the final stretch of the girls' varsity race, as spectators and wayward runners crowded the finish.
Nonetheless, rapidly improving Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy junior Paulina Antaplyan was able to nab second place individually and lead the Tologs to second as well, as they finished with 51 points to winner Harvard-Westlake's 36.
"I don't know," said Antaplyan of what was going on during the finish, as she was battling for first with eventual winner Kazia Mermel (20 minutes) of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame down the stretch while spectators inadvertently cluttered the racing path before two Alemany runners, apparently having strayed from the course, appeared from seemingly out of nowhere right before the finish line to further confuse things. "I was completely confused about what was going on. It was just really chaotic."
For St. Francis' Kyle Palazzolo things, weren't as confusing as they were frustrating, as the senior took sixth in the boys' race in 16:47, with his team placing third.
"It did feel kind of crowded," said Palazzolo of running in a league cluster meet, which is new to the Mission League after previous seasons of dual meets. "It was very crowded on the line especially."
Nonetheless, Palazzolo and his coach, Pat Donovan, were happy with the overall effort considering it came in the Golden Knights' first meet of the season.
"As far as the first competitive race, I'm happy with how competitive we were," said Donovan, whose team tallied 81 points, edging fourth-place Crespi (87) and finishing behind first-place Loyola (35), the defending league, CIF and state champion, and second-place Notre Dame (65). "I thought, realistically, [third place is] where we stood. I still see worlds of improvement on our end."
Added Palazzolo: "I feel like I ran better than expected. But I definitely feel there's room for improvement, I'm definitely aiming to move up a couple places."
The race was run by reigning league champion Elias Geydon, as the state standout took first in 15:57 to lead the way for the Cubs, who then took spots No. 7 through No. 12 for the easy win.
Notre Dame was led by Glendale resident Richard Lucas, as the senior took third in 16:10.
St. Francis' scoring five after Palazzolo was junior Colin Peterson (13th, 17:09), freshman Matt Evans (19th, 17:40), who ran much of the last stretch of the race with his shoes having slipped off, senior Tyler Kawachi (20th, 17:42) and senior Danny Velladao (23rd, 18:08).
"Colin and Kyle obviously ran good races," Donovan said. "Both of them have a lot of time to take off from that. By no means are they peaking."
In addition to the wild finish in the girls' race, there was also some other aspects that added kinks to the first league get-together.
While Harvard-Westlake, the reigning league, CIF and state champion, won the race, it did so with many of its runners taking it a bit easy, more than likely to accommodate running at the Woodbridge Invitational on Saturday. Perhaps the best example was reigning league and state individual champion Cami Chapus finishing seventh in 21:41, as the No. 3 finisher on her team, with Wolverines taking the No. 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 spots.
In addition, Sacred Heart accomplished its goal of taking second, but it came narrowly, with its 51 points edging past Notre Dame's 55. Alas, Sacred Heart was without last season's No. 1 Stephanie Vargas, who is coming back from an injury, and Coach Kirk Nishiyama also placed blame on himself for failing to use freshman Casey Bosso, who won the junior varsity race and would have scored for the Tologs.
"Our goal is second, we got it, but it was closer than we expected," Nishiyama said. "It was a good start, but Notre Dame was closer than I thought."
Amanda Aguilar, who took 17th in 22:29, was the only returning varsity runner for Sacred Heart to score in the race. Freshman Riley Gilmartin had an impressive debut, taking fifth in 21:23, while junior Nora Welsh was 14th in 22:21 and Annie Maguire, a junior, finished just in front of Aguilar, at 16th in 22:26.
Much of the race saw Notre Dame's duo of eventual winner Mermel and Stephanie Laface (third, 20:07) take a big lead in front of Antaplyan, who also had a wide gap between her and the rest of the field.
Down the stretch, though, Antaplyan caught them both, surpassing Mermel around the last turn, before giving back the lead on the final stretch.
"I was hoping on the last mile to try and somehow close the gap," Antaplyan said. "I was hoping to get them a little earlier [than I did].
"I wish I could've caught them at the end, but it was a good start."