For a second consecutive autumn, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy cross-country team returns a host of returners.
Last season, that notion elicited a good deal of promise from Tologs veteran Coach Kirk Nishiyama.
However, a string of inconsistent efforts plagued Sacred Heart for much of last year. But it was how the Tologs ran when it counted most that has Nishiyama once again excited about the prospects of having most of his cast back for the 2011 cross-country campaign.
"I think our varsity didn't really come together until late," Nishiyama said. "They know what they want to accomplish.
"I think there's a lot more confidence."
The confidence comes on the heels of the Paulina Antaplyan-led Tologs taking third in the CIF-State Division IV meet last season and returning with the likes of Antaplyan, Stephanie Vargas and Riley Gilmartin once again leading the way.
"If we stay healthy, we should be pretty good," Nishiyama said. "That's the key is if we can stay healthy."
The Tologs were one of two local teams to make it to the state meet in Fresno last year, with Mike Roffina's Flintridge Prep squad earning a berth in the Division V meet, while Crescenta Valley once again reaffirmed itself as a titlist in the Pacific League and ventured back into the CIF Southern Section Division I championships.
The trio has equally high hopes with the Tologs happy to have just about everyone back, while the Falcons and Rebels are shuffling to replace valuable cogs to last season's success.
Rounding out the half-dozen local squads, Glendale, Holy Family and Hoover are simply looking for improvement, whether it's in times dropping or increasing numbers in the program.
Coach Mark Evans' program is dealing with the losses of varsity mainstays Claudia Pham and Anneke Kakebeen, but Evans is quite excited about the prospects of Cali King, a junior returner who the longtime coach believes could contend for a Pacific League individual championship.
"She has the tools, she has the strength, she has the speed," said Evans of King, who finished 10th at last year's Pacific League finals and was consistently one of the Falcons' top five runners. "This is the best she's looked."
King also won't have to deal with Catrina McAlister, the multiple-time league champ who led Arcadia to a co-share of the league crown along with the Falcons, who won their eighth-straight title last year. Crescenta Valley also made it back to the CIF finals a season after having come up short in the preliminaries.
For Evans, he believes the team's aspirations are the same, just as Arcadia will likely be the same worthy adversary even without McAlister.
"I think Arcadia's got a good group coming back, I think they should go in as the [league] favorites," said Evans, whose team lost two of three league meets to Arcadia, but tied for the title based on a better performance at league finals.
Brooke Moultrie, a senior, is also back for the Falcons and Evans believes she is completely healed after dealing with injury last year. Seniors Ali Johnson and Hannah Ruby should also round out the top four, but Evans is currently looking to fill out his No. 5 spot.
Elsewhere in the Pacific League, Hoover Coach Jack Sallakian can't even get a No. 4 runner, as he only has three on the varsity squad, while Glendale Coach Bob Bailey has a young squad that must learn on the run.
"We're still struggling," said Sallakian of his girls' program getting runners.
Still, he likes what he sees from senior Rene Lawson, his only returner.
"Renes's looking very strong, a lot stronger than last year," he said.
Glendale has only one senior in its top five and will likely be led by juniors Lauren Hansen and Fabiola Naranjo.
After taking sixth in league last season just behind Hoover, the Nitros are looking to get experience and leadership in a hurry.
"With no returning senior in our top five, this young group will really need to step it up, both in leadership and performance," Bailey said. "I think our success over the season will depend on how they grow as a team as the season wears on."
Flintridge Prep is also absent of any senior leadership and, a bit unexpectedly, lost its best runner, as Kaitlyn Kelleher, a junior, decided to focus on club soccer.
"We are in a very interesting transition," said Roffina, whose team took third in the highly competitive Prep League last season before advancing to the CIF-State Division V finals and taking 10th. "We gained a couple of freshman and we lost a junior. We're a younger team than we were last year, but we might be better."
With a trio of returning sophomores — Kate Evans, Audrey Levy and Sarah Yoho — and a suddenly emergent Grace Broyles, a junior, as the core of the team, Roffina is particularly excited about the future, but admittedly uncertain about the immediate fortunes of his team.
"It's good for the future, but I don't know what that means for this year."
Holy Family first-year Coach Ernest Siy is also excited for the future, but in a far different way.
Siy, the school's athletic director and basketball coach, will take over for Danny Hamm, whose schedule in the school's theatre program conflicted with cross-country. Siy makes no bones about his lack of experience with cross-country, but is hoping that his team — led by seniors Alejandra Hernandez and Gaby Diaz — will compete, improve and enjoy running.
"I am a basketball guy, but the conditioning aspect is the same. There are times when they feel it's a basketball practice as we do all the same drills," Siy said. "We definitely want to compete as best we can.
"If they can come away from this program with a love of running to where they do it until they're 50 or 60, I'll be a happy man."
Nishiyama will be plenty happy if his team fulfills its potential after taking second in the Mission League and third at state a season ago. For that to happen, Nishiyama believes his Tologs must stay healthy, stay confident and stay consistent.
"Obviously, that's our No. 1 goal is to knock off Harvard-Westlake [in league] and it'd be great to get back up on that [medal] stand [at state]," said Nishiyama, who's also expecting big things from junior Gaby Fitzpatrick, seniors Nora Welsh and Annie Maguire and sophomore Casey Basso. "I think there's a lot more confidence. … I think that confidence will help in our consistency."