LA CRESCENTA — When the dust settled and the scores, times and standings were finalized for the 2010 Mission League cross-country season, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy took second and St. Francis High finished fourth.
The teams' respective final standings were hardly representative of their final reactions, however.
"I'm very happy with how the guys did today, I think we ran a pretty darn good race today," said St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan, whose team took fourth in Wednesday afternoon's league finals at Crescenta Valley Park, notching 82 points to finish behind first-place Loyola (26) and then a logjam thereafter with Harvard-Westlake (75) taking second and Notre Dame (80) finishing third. "That was a really close race. That's somebody edging you out at the line.
"But notwithstanding that, it was definitely a good effort."
St. Francis tied for third in the final standings with Harvard-Westlake, but the latter won a tiebreaker.
Sacred Heart, in contrast, took third on the day with 61 points, falling behind champion Harvard-Westlake (25) and Notre Dame (48), but having finished ahead of Notre Dame in each of the previous two league meets, took second in the standings. It was hardly of any solace to a disappointed Kirk Nishiyama, the Tologs' veteran coach.
"It was a terrible race," said Nishiyama, adding that he gave his team a bit of a tongue lashing after its performance. "I rarely get on them, but I got on them today."
On an unseasonably hot afternoon, conditions were far from ideal, but that didn't seem to bother Harvard-Westlake, as the defending CIF-State Division IV champions ran their best league meet this season with three top-five finishes and their scoring five finishing in the top nine slots. Defending state individual champion Cami Chapus took first in a dominating run of 18 minutes 25 seconds, nearly a minute in front of teammate Amy Weissenbach (second, 19:21.2).
Sacred Heart's Paulina Antaplyan led the Tologs' charge, as the team's most consistent runner all season long clocked 20:24.9 to take sixth place.
"I think we are disappointed," Antaplyan said. "It was really hot and it was a hard race.
"Speaking for myself, I think I underperformed. But I also think Notre Dame ran a great race.
"I think today was [Harvard-Westlake's] race to really race. When we started they really got out far ahead. They definitely brought their best game."
Antaplyan was followed directly by freshman Casey Basso, who took seventh in 20:27.2. Fellow freshman Riley Gilmartin then took 11th in 21:19.9. The top 11 finishers received all-league accolades.
"Our top three did fine," Nishiyama said. "I think they can run better than they did, but they did fine."
It was the fourth and fifth spots that ultimately decided Sacred Heart's, and Notre Dame's, fate.
In the second league meet of the season on Oct. 7 at CV Park, the Tologs had 43 points to Notre Dame's 60 and had four runners in the top nine and five in the top 14. This time, though, Notre Dame bested Sacred Heart with every slot. Normally, the top-heavy Knights had been bested in the third through fifth slots, but that wasn't the case this time around.
"Our four and five disappeared today," said Nishiyama, whose scoring five was rounded out by freshman Rebecca Armstrong (19th, 22:38.2) and junior Annie Maguire (20th, 22:48.2), with usual top-five runner Stephanie Vargas taking 21st in 22:54.4. "In the past, we've had six [runners] between [Notre Dame's] three and four. That's how we got beat today."
In contrast, in many ways, St. Francis improved from its last league meet, in particular frontrunner Kyle Palazzolo, who finished eighth in 16:18.6, an improvement from a sub-par second meet in which he took 12th in 16:25.
"I fully expected him to be back on his game and he was," Donovan said.
St. Francis junior Colin Peterson also ran strong with a 12th-place mark of 16:29.6. Loyola's Elias Geydon repeated as champion with another dominant effort, winning in 15:38.3, more than 20 seconds in front of Notre Dame's Will Conway (16:00.4). Glendale resident Richard Lucas of Notre Dame ran a disappointing 17:00.1 by his standards to finish 15th.
Tyler Kawachi (18th, 17:13.8), Matt Evans (20th, 17:13.8) and Daniel Velladao (24th, 17:38) rounded out the scoring five for the Golden Knights.
"I feel like this team is really close to the seniors," Palazzolo said, "so this was kind of like the swan song. So I feel like everybody gave it their all."
But as big as the league finals were, Donovan said the biggest goal and meet is still ahead with CIF prelims on the horizon and a berth in the CIF finals the true aspiration.
"We've had our goal set on making it to CIF finals as team all season," Donovan said. "Next week is the date that's circled on our calendar."
It's much the same for the Tologs, who have expectations of reaching state, but must certainly remedy their ills quickly for that to happen.
"I that still stands," said Nishiyama of his team's goal remaining the same. "We're gonna have to look at some people at [CIF] prelims [next week].
"We need to put everything together [at CIF finals] on Nov. 20."