State trio aiming for Fresno once more

When the 2011 cross-country season concluded for Crescenta Valley High, Flintridge Prep and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, they all found themselves in Fresno.

Their paths all led them to their same desired destination and the trio of locals is hopeful of another trek north to the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park. But all three will have to take vastly different paths to get there.

Crescenta Valley has a large group of returners, led by All-Area honorees Cali King and Megan Melnyk, and is looking to use a strong pack to get back to state.

Prep has its one-two punch of Kate Evans and Sara Yoho back and is looking for big things, while Flintridge Sacred Heart, though it's experienced, lost its one-two of Stephanie Vargas and Paulina Antaplyan and realizes an uphill battle is ahead of it to get back to state.

Meanwhile, Glendale, Hoover and Holy Family bring goals of building a foundation this season for hopeful success down the road.

For the Falcons, while their streak of eight straight Pacific League titles fell to the wayside against rival Arcadia, they were able to make it back to state for the first time since 2008.

Coach Mark Evans, the reigning All-Area Girls' Cross-Country Coach of the Year, has every intention of back-to-back trips with the core of King, a senior, Melnyk, a sophomore, senior Hannah Ruby and junior Erika Johnson returning.

"Our focus is on the pack," said Evans, whose team is ranked sixth in the initial CIF Southern Section Division I poll after having taken second in the Pacific League, sixth in the divisional finals and ninth at the state meet last year. "Our strength is we run as a team. We have a pretty good pack. That got us pretty far last year and it's gonna need to get us far this year. I think any one of them at any time could be the No. 1 runner."

Evans said the sophomore trio of Haley Witzeman, Amanda Burch and Katherine Nolte will also be a large part of a successful equation. While getting back to state is a large goal, league comes first and Evans believes Arcadia will once again be an arduous opponent to overcome.

"I think Arcadia's gonna be a very good team. They've got a pretty good group of girls back," said Evans of the Apaches, who are ranked eighth in the preseason. "There's definitely gonna be some challenges in league. We can't take anything for granted."

If anybody knows about strong league competition, it's Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama and his Flintridge Sacred Heart squad, which must overcome the losses of its top two runners, while dealing with the likes of Harvard-Westlake (No. 6 in Division IV), the reigning Mission League champion, and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, which is ranked fifth in Division IV.

"We have Notre Dame and Harvard in our league, so our goal is to just try and get to CIF and then to state," said Nishiyama, whose Tologs are ranked ninth in Division IV. "Our goal is always to go to state, but it's gonna be tough, we lost a lot."

The Tologs still return, a lot, as well. Junior Riley Gilmartin and senior Gabby Fitzpatrick are likely to be in the top five, with junior Maddie Peterson and senior Colleen Degnan, both splitting time with volleyball, also predicted to be big contributors along with sophomore Kayla Graham.

"I don't think we're gonna have a big No. 1," said Nishiyama, whose team took third in league last year on its way to finishing seventh at state. "We're gonna have to pack and we're gonna have to pack up top."

Up top, longtime Flintridge Prep Coach Mike Roffina couldn't be happier with the combination of juniors Evans and Yoho. Evans is currently edging out Yoho, but Roffina said they're always neck and neck.

"It's a great problem to have," Roffina said. "They're very competitive, but they like each other."

Roffina also likes the addition of sophomore Lacy Coan, a transfer from Washington state who ran in the state championships there last season.

"That's been a real boost for our group," said Roffina, whose team finished fourth in the tough Prep League last year, before fifth- and ninth-place finishes in the Southern Section and CIF State Division V finals.

Now, Prep enters the season ranked fourth in its division with Pasadena Poly a spot ahead and Chadwick at ninth, sure to make for another tight race for the Prep League's top spots.

"We have a smaller team than normal, but we've got a great group of kids," Roffina said. "We're expecting big things, we're very hopeful.

"We definitely have aspirations to do great things."

Pablo Carlos, the founder of the L.A. Falcons running club, takes over for longtime Glendale Coach Bob Bailey to navigate the Nitros.

Carlos, an assistant with Glendale in previous seasons, is particularly excited about the prospects of sophomore Leana Setian, who took 15th at the Pacific League finals as the Nitros' No. 1 runner last year and qualified for CIF in the 1,600 during the track season.

"I think Leana's gonna have a really good season," said Carlos, who's also happy with his top four runners as a whole, which consists of Setian, seniors Fabiola Naranjo and Lauren Hansen and sophomore Caroline Cubero. "I expect all four of them to do really well."

Hoover's prospects for a top league finish aren't as good as its prospects for building for future seasons, which veteran coach Jack Sallakian is most excited about.

"This is the first year in a while we've actually had five girls that've come out and trained in the summer," said Sallakian, whose squad consists of three freshmen, a sophomore and junior Lucik Minassian, who's likely to be the team's No. 1 runner after transferring from New York. "She has no cross-country experience, but she's looking good so far. She's improving tremendously."

Ernest Siy, also the school's athletic director and basketball coach, returns for his second season to coach Holy Family. His immediate goals are simply for his Gaels to have fun, develop a passion for running and possibly build a foundation for future success.

"It's gonna be a learning process," said Siy, whose team will be led by junior returners Alexandra Mendoza and Jessica Reyes.

Holy Family begins its season on Sept. 26 with a Horizon League meet, as the Gaels are not partaking in any nonleague meets or invitationals.

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