Prep reloads for state push

Like any school and cross-country program, every season sees the Flintridge Prep boys' cross-country team deal with plenty of turnover due to graduation.

But unlike any other boys' program in the area, the Rebels seemingly always reload as the most successful year in and year out, as longtime coach Ingrid Herskind continues to navigate the small school power that has won 19 of the last 20 Prep League titles and routinely ventures to the state meet, flexing its might as a Division V power.

This season, Herskind's aiming for nothing less than the same high Rebels standard despite losing 12 seniors from last year's team.

"That's always tough on a team, but we've had an incredible summer putting the team back together," said Herskind, whose team won its second league crown in a row last season before going on to a third-place finish in the CIF Southern Section Division V final before a fourth-place mark at state. "They're just ready to go, ready to run."

Herskind said senior Aaron Sugimoto is likely to be the team's frontrunner, "but it alternates all the time."

She expects the rest of the top five to be filled out by senior Elias Ellison and juniors Alan Yoho, Tyler Fong and Danny Weitekamp. Herskind's also particularly happy with the team's work ethic thus far, including its affinity for cross-training, often using swimming and bicycling to add to the training.

"We're definitely stronger than we were last year," Herskind said. "We're really trying to do that to prevent injuries."

Prep begins the season ranked third in the Southern Section Division V rankings, behind No. 1 St. Margaret's and No. 2 Xavier Prep, while Prep League rivals Chadwick and Pasadena Poly sit at No. 4 and No. 8, respectively.

"Definitely, I think our biggest [league] competitor will be Chadwick. I think they're gonna be pretty good," Herskind said.

Of course, Prep always has its eyes on returning to state and Herskind is eyeing a return to a top-three state finish and a spot on the podium.

"We definitely want to get back up there," Herskind said.

Meanwhile, Crescenta Valley wants to get back up to the upper echelon of the Pacific League, as league champion and Division I top-ranked Arcadia and No. 5 Burbank are predicted to have big seasons, possibly leaving Crescenta Valley, Burroughs, Hoover and Glendale to fight over the last automatic postseason spot. The Falcons came up short last season, taking fourth, just as every local boys' squad besides Prep failed to make the postseason.

"They're very motivated and they still remember not making CIF prelims," Falcons Coach Mark Evans said.

Despite losing top runner Mike Duncan to graduation, Evans believes the depth of his team makes it better than last year's offering.

"I'm really excited about the boys. The boys have really worked hard this summer and we've put an emphasis on the pack," Evans said. "We have more depth with the boys than we've had in years."

Leading that depth is likely to be junior Gabe Collison, the younger brother of Claire Collison, likely the greatest runner in the history of the CV girls' program. Senior Aaron Esparza, juniors Nick Beatty and Matt Manalo and sophomore Adam Rowton are likely to round out the top five.

"The first order of league is to finish in the top three and qualify for league," Evans said. "We feel like we can do that. That's what we want to do."

Longtime Hoover Coach Jack Sallakian wants to see a Tornadoes presence at CIF, as well, but believes it will come individually.

"It's very exciting this year. This year we have two talented runners coming back," said Sallakian of returning All-Area senior Jeremy Zadoorian and senior captain Kenny Trejo. "Our goal is to get them in individually because the rest of the team is very young and still learning."

With No. 1 runner Colin Peterson having departed and the team looking to rebound from a sixth-place finish in the Mission League, it's likely to be an uphill battle for St. Francis Coach Patrick Donovan's Golden Knights.

Defending league champion Loyola, a perennial CIF contender, is ranked second in Division II, while Crespi is No. 3 in Division IV, followed by Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Harvard-Westlake in ninth and 10th, respectively, in Division IV. Thus, St. Francis has its work cut out for it after failing to make the postseason last year for the first time since in more than a decade.

Glendale will be under the watchful eye of new coach Pablo Carlos, who assisted under longtime coach Bob Bailey and is excited about taking over the Nitros.

"The boys are cooking," said Carlos, who expects big things from junior Brian Shieh and senior Frankie Castro. "I'm looking at 10 boys that are gonna be fighting for that varsity spot."

Carlos said his team's aiming for a top-four spot in the Pacific League.

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