Plenty to celebrate at Staub

LA CRESCENTA — Crescenta Valley High's Ali Johnson found it "weird" leading the way for the Falcons, La Cañada's Sonja Cwik took a step further in a season that's been quite the opposite from her previous year and Flintridge Prep's Sarah Yoho took her first-ever stab at taking first.

With SAT exams in the classroom and unseasonable heat on the course, there were a fair share of atypical occurrences on Saturday morning at the 45th Staub/Barnes Cross-Country Invitational.

Nevertheless, it was a championship day as it relates to the area cross-country landscape.

Cwik's second first-place invitational finish in as many weeks led to the Spartans' second team title in as many weeks in the girls' Division II race, Johnson led a Falcons' girls' pack to a team title in the Division I girls' race and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy prevailed in the Division III race, overcoming Yoho's first-place run and Rebels teammate Kate Evans' second-place showing.

On the boys' side, success wasn't as prevalent, but Hoover's Jeremy Zadoorian did his part to run past an overmatched Division II field for an individual win.

Overall, though, it was impossible to look beyond the absence of many of the participating teams' top runners due to taking the SATs, most notably in the realm of area runners, that of Burroughs' Anthony Monroy, the reigning All-Area Boys' Runner of the Year. Monroy was one of six Indians runners that missed the race due to testing.

"It's just kind of the way the calendar falls," said Crescenta Valley's Mark Evans, who traditionally schedules the Staub meet for the fourth weekend of the season, which sometimes overlaps with the SATs. "I think the depth of the field wasn't there [today]. The races were a little slower, part of that's the heat, and there wasn't the competition to push it."

Cwik needed little to push her, though, as she easily won her race.

"I really wanted to win, but I didn't think I'd win by that much," said Cwik, who took first in Division II with a run of 19 minutes 12.6 seconds, far in front of second-place Monika Gyalay (19:45.12) of Moorpark.

Cwik's time was the second-best girls' mark across all the divisions, with Golden Valley's Chelsey Totten winning Division I in 18:56.41.

It came a week after Cwik won her race at the Bellarmine-Loyola Cross-Country Invitational and led the Spartans to a victory, as well. This time around, La Cañada won with 37 points and three top-10 finishers, easily besting second-place Camarillo (81).

"I'm feeling very happy," Cwik, a junior, said. "I didn't have a really good year last year, so this feels really great."

Cwik couldn't quite pin down the reasoning behind her dramatic turnaround, though she said discovering that she was anemic last year likely played a part. Nonetheless, she was all smiles on Saturday, as was Spartans Coach Jenn Strople.

"The girls are running very well, Sonja's doing extremely well," said Strople, whose scoring five also consisted of sophomore Anna Frederich (sixth, 19:50.59), senior Meghan Fuelling (ninth, 20:12.61), freshman Coleen Mispagel (11th, 20:22.09) and junior Hanah Yoho (14th, 20:45.28). "They're coming on."

With usual frontrunner Cali King battling illness, Johnson, a senior, took the lead for the Falcons and finished sixth in 19:34.23, followed shortly thereafter by King and a pack of CV runners that put the team's scoring five in the top 13 to garner 40 points in front of Canyon Country Canyon's 65.

"I was happy with it," said Johnson of her performance. "It felt like a weird race because Cali wasn't up there. … She's always my target."

It was the second straight team title at the home invitational for the Falcons — who saw King (ninth, 19:54.47), freshman Megan Melnyk (10th, 19:57.09), junior Hannah Ruby (11th, 20:02.67) and senior Brooke Moultrie (13th, 20:05.64) pack together for the victory.

"I thought they ran really well from a pack standpoint," Evans said. "It was good because Ali showed some leadership when Cali wasn't where she's supposed to be and couldn't run like she usually does.

"I'm really, really pleased, this is a good race for them."

Sacred Heart, running without senior leaders Paulina Antaplyan and Stephanie Vargas, grabbed 44 points to win the Division III race rather handily, 34 points in front of Bella Vista, while Prep was third with 85 points, followed by Pasadena Poly (fourth, 90), South Pasadena (fifth, 105) and Pasadena (sixth, 118).

Sacred Heart was paced by the sophomore combo of Riley Gilmartin (fifth, 21:38) and Maddie Peterson (sixth, 21:45) with three more top-20 finishers in freshman Kayla Grahn (12th, 22:28), junior Olivia Mendoza (13th, 22:31) and freshman Katherine Laco (19th, 23:05).

But it was Yoho and Evans who truly ran away with the Division III race, as the sophomore tandem went out fast with the rest of the field, but broke away.

"We passed most of the girls in the first mile," said Yoho, who took first in 20:09. "I've never ran in first, ever."

Yoho said it was Evans who usually game plans for the two and she did once again on Saturday, realizing on the CV Park course that you can't fall behind early because you won't catch up.

"We were planning on staying with the FSHA girls. I was not expecting [to get so far out in front]," said Evans, who took second in 21:05, 28 seconds in front of the next finisher. "I think it gives us a lot of confidence going forward."

Zadoorian also claimed first in the Division II boys' race, coming to a finish in 16:47.87, in front of Santa Monica's Arden Lassalle, who finished in 16:49.38.

Accustomed to facing the heavyweights of the Pacific League, Zadoorian admitted that winning the Division II race wasn't as much on his mind as chasing a time goal of the low 16s, which was hindered by the heat.

"Usually, I start off pretty fast, but today I just wanted to keep the pace. It was really hot today," Zadoorian said. "It was more about time for me. I'm happy that I got first, but not as much as [I would've been if I got a better time]."

While Cwik dazzled on the girls' side, it was Crescenta Valley sophomore Gabe Collison that was the area's fastest boys' runner. He finished sixth in the Division I boys' race to lead the Falcons to a third-place mark of 81 points.

"Gabe's just been running better and better every week," said Evans of Collison, who took over the Falcons' top spot from Mike Duncan, as the senior finished eighth in 16:28.72, just in front of fellow senior Aaron Esparza (10th, 16.37.78).

Burroughs, led by senior Brandon Andrade (13th, 16:47.16), was seventh in the race with 192 points.

In Division II boys, Hoover took fourth with 137 points. La Cañada was seventh (159 points) and followed by Pasadena Poly (206) and Glendale (273).

The Spartans had two top-20 finishers in senior Brendan Greene (eighth, 17:12.54) and junior Brandon Newquist (18th, 17:40.93).

Poly was led by junior Michael Caughron (13th, 17:27.07) and Glendale was paced by sophomore Brian Shieh (26th, 17:57.13).

In the day's final varsity race, Eli Weinstein of Flintridge Prep finished sixth in the Division III run, as the senior finished in 17:50.53. Rebels teammate Alex Guzner, a senior, was 19th in 18:41.44.

South Pasadena took third with 77 points, while Pasadena was fifth with 104 points.

Junior Jonas Mejia was the Bulldogs' top finisher in 17:59.61, while Muir's lone runner, senior Ashton Malone, was 10th in 18:12.04. South Pas' Josh Thomas was 15th in 18:28.17.

Elsewhere in the Division II girls' race, Burroughs took fifth with 110 points, while Glendale took seventh out of nine teams with 160 points.

The Indians were paced by a strong performance from junior Gracia Innocentia, who took fourth in 19:48.78. Teammate Brice Edrington, a junior, was 13th in 20:43.01.

Glendale also got a solid performance from freshman Leana Setian, who took seventh in 19:53.29. Hoover senior Renee Lawson finished 17th in 20:57.63, but the Tornadoes did not field a full team.

The third varsity race of the day, the girls' Division III race, saw Pasadena Poly finish fourth with 90 points, South Pasadena take fifth with 105 and Pasadena finish sixth with 118.

Pasadena's Brenna Torres took seventh in 21:53, just ahead of eighth-place teammate Katherine Robinson in 22:10. But the junior duo didn't have another teammate finish until the 29th spot.

Poly sophomore Emily Gifford was ninth in 22:13, with teammate Kelly Liu, a junior, taking 15th in 22:37.

South Pasadena was led by freshman Julia Primuth (16th, 22:45) and sophomore Remeny White (18th, 22:55).

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