Woodward Park in Fresno can be an intimidating course, but it's a venue where the Flintridge Prep boys' and girls' teams, along with Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Crescenta Valley's girls' programs, have fared well in recent trips to the CIF State Cross-Country Championships.
Having gotten through league and their respective CIF Southern Section division finals, the quartet of schools will be back at Woodward Park today to take part in the state meet looking to achieve various goals.
Flintridge Sacred Heart will take part in the Division IV race at 8:30 a.m., followed by Flintridge Prep's girls' team in the Division V competition at 9:05. Flintridge Prep's boys' team will start at 10:10 in Division V and Crescenta Valley will run at 10:40 in the Division I race.
Flintridge Sacred Heart will look for a similar effort to last season, when it finished third on the 3.1-mile course. It was the Tologs' best showing at state in the program's history.
Things are a bit different since Flintridge Sacred Heart celebrated its finish last season. The Tologs placed third in the ultra-competitive Mission League and then placed sixth at the division finals Nov. 19 at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut.
"We ran well [in the division], but we have four or five runners who can do better," Flintridge Sacred Heart Coach Kirk Nishiyama said. "The competition will be a little more stiff at state, so the goal for us will be to get a top-five placement.
"We peaked at the right time last year. We still haven't run our best yet this year. If we can run our best, then we'll see what happens."
The Tologs have been paced by senior Stephanie Vargas, who finished ninth in 18 minutes 32 seconds at the division final. Vargas will be flanked by Paulina Antaplyan, Riley Gilmartin, Maddie Peterson and Hanna Armendariz.
Flintridge Prep's boys' team hasn't been healthy throughout the season, yet it still managed to win the Prep League title for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. In their division race, the Rebels placed third.
Those two accomplishments have Flintridge Prep Coach Ingrid Herskind believing the Rebels, who placed fourth at state last year, are in great position to contend for a top-five finish today.
"We are excited with the way things have gone," Herskind said. "If there's one thing that's great about our team, it's that we are super deep.
"We've been plagued by injuries and illness since the first meet of the season. Now, we are healthy for the first time and it couldn't have come at a better time. Their energy is up. We are thinking of a top-five finish and it's a course that we've done well on and like a lot."
The Rebels figure to be anchored by Casey Thompson, Alan Yoho, Eli Weinstein, Jake Johnson and Bradley James.
Crescenta Valley, which took second in the Pacific League and sixth at the finals, will be back at state following a two-year absence.
For the Falcons, they will have another deep team ready to participate in the highest division. Crescenta Valley will have a lineup that will feature Ali Johnson, Cali King, Megan Melnyk, Erika Johnson and Brooke Moultrie.
"We are going up there thinking we'd like to get a top-10 finish, maybe even seventh or eighth," Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans said. "To do that, we are going to have to run a very good race.
"We've had some great workouts and we will try to pack together [today]. In order to run well on that course, you have to stay in control of yourself early. When you come off the two-mile mark at Woodward, there's a little down hill. That's where you want to make your move so that you can go by some people."
The Flintridge Prep girls also qualified for the state meet after placing fifth in their division race.
The Rebels will turn to their one-two punch of Sarah Yoho and Kate Evans, along with Grace Broyels, Audrey Levy and Ashley Lara.
Flintridge Prep took 10th in the state meet last season under Coach Michael Roffina.