LA CRESCENTA — For Paulina Antaplyan and the surging Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy cross-country team, at first look, not much changed from the first Mission League meet of the season to Thursday afternoon's second league get-together at Crescenta Valley Park.
After all, reigning league and CIF-State Division IV champion Harvard-Westlake still took first and Sacred Heart still took second, just in front of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
But Sacred Heart tightened the gap between itself and Harvard-Westlake and also widened the margin between itself and Notre Dame in the process.
"That was our goal today," said Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama, whose squad tallied 43 points to first-place Harvard-Westlake's 34 and third-place Notre Dame's 60. "I think we made [Harvard-Westlake] race today."
For St. Francis, after a scare at the scoring table, it was able to hold on to its third-place position — which it garnered in the first meet — behind a spirited run from junior Colin Peterson with 81 points behind first-place Loyola (28) and second-place Notre Dame (66) and just in front of Harvard-Westlake (83).
"I came in today and I told the guys every second counts, every place counts," said St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan. "This is a sport of seconds and individual places. … Meets like this really drive the point home. Everything counts up to the finish line and sometimes beyond."
The battle for third place came down to St. Francis' No. 5 runner Danny Velledao, who tumbled across the finish and created a domino effect of chaos. Upon first tally, Valledao was deemed to have finished 26th in 17 minutes 31 seconds and Harvard-Westlake had 83 points to St. Francis' 84. But upon further discussion, the change was made for Valledao finishing 24th in 17:28 and St. Francis vaulted ahead of Harvard-Westlake by a point. A third and final change was made to the final total, though it did not affect placement. Thus, officially, Velledao took 23rd in 17:28.
Locally, Glendale resident Richard Lucas of Notre Dame had the best finish, taking third in 15:51, as Loyola's Elias Geydon dominated to the tune of a first-place run of 15:44, while Notre Dame's Will Conway took second in 15:51.
Peterson led the St. Francis charge with a ninth-place mark of 16:17.
"Colin came in here today and he said his goal was to break 17 minutes," said Donovan, who saw all five of his top-five runners improve their times from the first league meet. "He came in and just destroyed it.
"He went out there today and ran a gutsy race."
Sandwiched in between Peterson and Velledao were Kyle Palazzolo (12th, 16:25), Tyler Kawachi (18th, 17:00) and Matt Evans (19th, 17:03). For Palazzolo, normally St. Francis' lead runner, it was a bit of an uncharacteristic performance.
"I was a rough day for him," said Donovan, who added that he thought testing and a school-wide mass helped to take its toll on the senior All-Area runner. "I could just tell going into [the race] that he was drained.
"This was a one-time hiccup in my mind. He's gonna be right back in the mix."
For the most part, Antaplyan was in the mix in front of the girls' race, which was won for a second straight meet by Notre Dame's Kazia Mermel (19:28), who ran 32 seconds faster than the previous meet. She finished ahead of second-place Cami Chapus (19:30) of Harvard-Westlake, Amy Weissenbach (third, 19:31) of Harvard-Westlake and Notre Dame's Stephanie Laface (fourth, 19:32).
Antaplyan had finished second in the first league meet, but despite dropping to fifth this time around, her time of 19:59 was actually four seconds faster than her previous run.
"I just think it was a faster race than last time," Antaplyan said. "Just starting the second mile, [the frontrunners] kept increasing the pace."
Much of the change can be attributed to Harvard-Westlake going all out, as it held back in the opening meet due to a forthcoming invitational. But this time around, as well, the Tologs ran faster also.
Freshman Riley Gilmartin continued to impress with a seventh-place mark of 20:52, leading a pack with Stephanie Vargas (eighth, 21:09) and Casey Basso (ninth, 21:09) finishing shortly thereafter. Annie Maguire rounded out the scoring five with a 14th-place mark of 21:48.
"We're trying to pack up tighter than we have in the past," Nishiyama said.
The performance was especially notable considering Vargas is the only returner from last season's usual scoring five, despite losing only one to graduation.
"We're lucky we're deep this year," said Nishiyama, whose other returners are dealing with an assortment of issues, some injured and some simply just not performing as well as last season.
Vargas, however, is steadily improving after an injury.
"We had Steph back, it's a big plus," he said.
With the league finals on Nov. 4 at the same CV Park, both Donovan and Nishiyama believe their squads are headed in the right direction.
"I think we can definitely tighten the gap," said Donovan of the distance between his team and Notre Dame. "We're definitely on the upside now."
Said Nishiyama: "We're getting there. We packed well. We're headed in the right direction."