Taking their shot at state

With the weather forecast looking mostly sunny for Saturday's CIF Southern Section boys' and girls' cross-country championships at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, the venerable course's traditional layout figures to come back into play after the lengthened, but flatter, rain contingency course was used for Saturday's preliminaries.

Thus, the advantage may shift slightly back to more tactical teams and runners, as opposed to the alternate course that traditionally favors speed.

"We're ready for whatever course they decide on," Flintridge Prep boys' Coach Ingrid Herskind said in a sentiment likely shared by all four local teams taking part in Saturday's event.

Along with the Prep boys in Division V, the field will include the Rebels girls, also in Division V, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in Division IV and Crescenta Valley High's girls' team in Division I.

Division championships are up for grabs, as are invitations to the CIF State Cross Country Championships Nov. 26 at Woodward Park in Fresno. It will take a top-seven finish within their respective division for teams to advance, while top-five individuals not connected to a qualifying team will also advance as long as they finish in the top 20.

"We would like to run one more week," Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans said.

Sacred Heart will take to the course first, in the opening race of the morning at 7:45 a.m. The Tologs, ranked 11th in the division, won their prelims heat with an upset of second-ranked Mayfield, one of several top teams, including top-ranked JSerra and third-ranked Mission League-rival Harvard-Westlake, that Sacred Heart will have to contend with again on Saturday.

"We would just like to make it to state, that's going to be a tough battle for us," Sacred Heart Coach Kirk Nishiyama said. "Hopefully, we'll build off our performance from last week. Last week was a big confidence boost for us."

Stephanie Vargas (third in prelims heat in 18 minutes 7 seconds) has led the way for the Tologs this year and Paulina Antaplyan (eighth, 18:50) will look to fill the No. 2 role in what will be just her third race back from an injury suffered early in the season.

"Stephanie's had a great year for us," Nishiyama said. "Steph will lead us, hopefully, and then Paulina behind her. If we get solid performances from those two and our other three come through [we can make it]."

Prep's girls will be up next, with the Division V girls' race set for 8:05.

"We're just hoping to qualify for state," said Prep Coach Michael Roffina, whose team is ranked sixth in the division, where Xavier College Prep, Chadwick and Thacher hold down the top spots. "There's probably 10 or 11 teams [in the division] that can do it. It will definitely be a challenging and interesting race."

Sarah Yoho (fifth, 18:13) and Kate Evans (eighth, 18:24) continue to form a strong one-two punch for the Rebels, who finished runner-up in their prelims heat behind Xavier Prep.

"Our three, four, five and six need to have the race of their lives," Roffina said. "Our one and our two are racing great, but for us, we absolutely need to close the gap as much as we can.

"We're a young team, we're relying on a lot of talent that doesn't have lot of experience."

Prep's boys, who go off at 8:45, represent a program that has typically found its stride late in the season, often with spectacular results at CIF and state. Herskind hopes that Saturday's tie with Xavier Prep to win their prelims heat is a sign of yet another late-season peak.

"Racing nice and relaxed [at prelims] gave us a lot of confidence going into Saturday's finals race," said Herskind, whose team is ranked third in the division. "We're definitely vying to go after [second-ranked] Desert Christian. We've been kind of keeping an eye on them all season long and I think we're starting to finally see that our training is coming together."

Aaron Sugimoto (ninth, 15:34) led Prep on Saturday, where its scoring five was separated by less than one minute.

"We definitely feel like our eye is on second place, it's a reasonable expectation for us," Herskind said. "It's going to be a fierce battle, no matter what."

Ninth-ranked Crescenta Valley will compete at 9:05 in a division that includes not only top-three Great Oak, Trabuco Hills and San Clemente, but also Pacific League archrival Arcadia in the No. 8 spot.

"We certainly want to be in the top seven, but we would rather not make it so dramatic," said Falcons Coach Mark Evans, who would like to move his team's pack up a bit from its performance on Saturday, where it placed third in its heat. "It would be nice if we could be fifth or sixth, but we've got to be somewhere up in that area and I think we have a shot of doing that."

Megan Melnyk was the Falcons' top finisher (12th, 17:30) on Saturday, which could easily change.

"It's been pretty much a team effort all season and I think if you go back and look at each meet, we probably had four different people be our No. 1 person in any of the meets," Evans said. "I think we have such a tight pack that, depending on the race and the day, any one of them can be our top runner.

"They're excited and they're ready to go. They're all working together as a team and that's what we're really emphasizing."

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