LOS ANGELES — As the start to the Pacific League cross-country season came and went on Thursday afternoon at Griffith Park, it did such with little surprise and little change from last season to this.
Ranked among the top teams in the nation, Arcadia High's boys' team, the reigning league champion, dominated en route to victory in the dual-meet scored event, with Burroughs' Anthony Monroy, the reigning All-Area Boys' Cross-Country Runner of the Year, and Crescenta Valley's Mike Duncan providing local highlights with top-five individual finishes, the former finishing second and the latter taking fifth.
The girls' race was a race indeed, but Arcadia, led by defending league champion Catrina McAlister, fended off Crescenta Valley, 26-29.
"It was a great race with Arcadia," said Falcons Coach Mark Evans, whose team has won seven straight league titles, but came into Thursday ranked 10th in the latest CIF Southern Section Division I poll with Arcadia at seventh. "[Arcadia's] a good team, they were kinda the favorites. I think our girls rose to the occasion. I was impressed with how we ran."
Perhaps the biggest surprise and, in turn, the biggest change from a season ago was the performance of Burbank's McKenzie Paul, who took second in 18 minutes 26 seconds behind McAlister (18:18).
"The times I'm running now are nowhere near the times I was running last year," said Paul, who added that training with the boys' team has been part of her success. "I'm in a lot better shape now.
"My goal is to get second place this year in league. … [So far, it's going] exactly to plan right now."
Paul finished fourth in last season's league finals at Griffith Park with a time of 18:57.
Crescenta Valley was led by Claudia Pham, last year's All-Area Girls' Runner of the Year, who finished third in 18:28. Aside from Paul, the top 13 finishers were either Apaches or Falcons.
Anneke Kakebeen came in fifth for the Falcons at 18:45, followed by Cali King (seventh, 19:26), Brooke Moultrie (eighth, 19:30) and Erika Johnson (11th, 19:44). Johnson, just a freshman, is the younger sister of Ali Johnson, one of the Falcons' top-five runners last season, who's still nursing an injury.
Last year, the Falcons also dropped the first league meet of the season, before rallying to take the next two and the league crown.
"Our intention is still to defend the title," Evans said. "This is one meet, we've still got two shots to catch them.
"We've done this before. There's a lot more races to go."
On the boys' side, Arcadia had four runners finish in the first six spots, with its No. 5 taking ninth.
Monroy proved to be the only runner in the same area code as Arcadia's Amar Moussa (first, 15:02), finishing second in 15:06, 44 seconds in front of the third-place finisher.
"I was just trying to keep it under control, nothing crazy," said Monroy of his race plan. "I knew Amar would take it out fast, I was just thinking I gotta keep up with him."
Burroughs turned in the second best day overall, as Arcadia beat the Indians, 20-35. The closest competition was between the Indians and Bulldogs, however, with Burroughs nipping its rival, 24-31, and CV turning in the fourth-best output, though far behind.
"I think we did very good as a team," Monroy said. "We're all improving. Hopefully we can keep it up through the season."
CV was led by Duncan (15:51) in fifth, while Sergio Fraire was the first Bulldog across the line, taking seventh in 16:04, just in front of Burroughs' Charlie Camacho (eighth, 16:14).
The biggest problem for the Falcons was a lack of pack running, however, with Bob Anderson as their No. 2 finisher in 16:57, with their next three runners coming in at 23rd, 25th and 34th.
"[There's] just not a lot of depth right now," Evans said. "They're improving. … We're just not as strong as the other teams in league right now. We've just got that big gap and we're working on closing that."
Both Glendale and Hoover received good individual efforts in the boys' race, but a big gap also plagued them.
Chris Canlas took 10th in 16:15 to lead the Nitros, but their day was a spot behind Hoover, which was led by Jeremy Zadoorian (12th, 16:24), who took the race out extremely fast, holding first at the onset before beginning to fall away from the frontrunners around the 5:00 mark.
Burbank's girls' team, whose No. 2 finisher was Christina Shamirian (14th, 20:22) turned in the third-best day, easily distancing itself from rival Burroughs. The Bulldogs' scoring five crossed the finish line before the Indians' top runner.
Hoover's top finisher was Frances Ramas, who took 22nd in 21:13, but the Tornadoes didn't have enough runners to score in the girls' race. Glendale, turning in a fifth-best performance, was led by Yajaira Hernandez (30th, 22:32).