GLENDALE — A return to the familiar ground of the CIF Southern Section Cross-Country Championships for the Crescenta Valley High girls' cross-country team was accompanied by the accomplishment of a goal St. Francis has spent the last two years pursuing.
Along with Flintridge Prep's boys' and girls' cross-country teams and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy making strong showings and convincingly qualifying for the CIF finals, those were the local storylines that dominated Saturday's CIF Southern Section Cross-Country Preliminaries at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut.
Needing a top-four finish or better to qualify for the finals, which will be held at 7:45 a.m. Saturday at Mt. SAC, the Falcons girls' team is back in the finals thanks to a third-place showing in its Division I heat in 1 hour 36 minutes 53 seconds for a score of 78 points.
"There was a little bit of nervousness just about the fact that we didn't make it last year and we wanted to make it this year," said Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans, whose team was riding the momentum of rallying to claim a share of its eighth straight Pacific League title in the league finals meet on Nov. 4. "I think we did a good job. We had pretty good grouping, but I know they feel they can run better."
Senior Claudia Pham, whose foot injury prevented her from running in the 2009 prelims, where Crescenta Valley narrowly missed the cut with a fifth-place finish, led the charge with a fourth-place effort in 18:38 on Saturday.
"[Having Claudia] did make a lot of difference," Evans said. "I thought the girls ran well, we ran as well as we needed to run to make it into finals and they're just really excited."
Pham was followed by senior teammate Anneke Kakebeen in 10th in 19:04, freshman Erika Johnson (13th, 19:11), junior Brooke Moultrie (22nd, 19:42) and sophomore Ruby Hannah (33rd, 20:18).
Because Division III boys only ran three heats, a fifth-place finish would automatically qualify the Golden Knights, and that's exactly what they got in 1:22.50, with senior Kyle Palazzolo leading the way in fourth overall in 15:47 to get the team back to the finals for the first time since 2008 with a score of 123.
"The conditions weren't exactly perfect, but my guys came in and did exactly what I was hoping they could do on a good day," said St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan, whose top five was rounded out by junior Colin Peterson (17th, 16:15), senior Tyler Kawachi (30th, 16:46), freshman Matt Evans (31st, 16:47) and senior Danny Velladao (50th, 17:15). "We had this date circled on our schedule all season and they came out there [Saturday] and proved that."
The Rebels' boys' and girls' teams both got the job done with second-place finishes in their respective Division V heats.
Prep's Prep League-champion boys were runners-up in 1:27.18 with a score of 67 points behind Lancaster Desert Christian (46, 1:26.27).
Senior Jason Bunn was the Rebels' top finisher in 16:57, followed by junior Jake Johnson (13th, 17:24), senior Jesse Redding, junior Eli Weinstein (20th, 17:42) and sophomore Elias Ellison (24th, 17:46).
Led by a fourth-place individual finish from sophomore Kaitlyn Kelleher in 20:00, the Rebels girls' team clocked a 1:45.32 and finished with 62 points to Chadwick's score of 42 points and time of 1:42.59.
Freshman Sarah Yoho finished just five seconds behind Kelleher to take fifth, while freshmen Audrey Levy (25th, 22:27), Galey Caverly (26th, 22:37) and Kate Kennedy (44th, 23:19) rounded out Prep's top five.
"We have a very young team that's running really well and we're encouraged and enthused about next week," Prep girls' co-Coach Michael Roffina said. "I think they had their best race of the season [Saturday]."
Sacred Heart finished third in its Division IV heat with 73 points in 1:43.48.
The Tologs were led by junior Paulina Antaplyan in ninth place in 20:02, freshman Riley Gilmartin in 11th in 20:13 and junior Stephanie Vargas in 12th in 20:31.
Casey Basso (21st, 21:13) and Amanda Aguilar (30th, 21:49) comprised the rest of the Tologs' scoring five.
Crescenta Valley's boys' team finished seventh in its Division I heat in 1:23.54 with 165 points, led by an 11th-place finish from junior Mike Duncan in 16:14.