Flintridge Prep cross-country, Gabe Collison set to compete

It figures to be a big day for Flintridge Prep at the 2012 CIF State Cross Country Championships, as both the Rebels’ boys’ and girls’ teams have qualified to compete for the Division V crown at Woodward Park in Fresno Saturday morning.

Flintridge Prep’s boys are among the top contenders for their first state crown since 2004, if not the outright favorite, as the Rebels are the top-ranked team in the division according to PrepCalTrack.com and ended the season ranked second in Southern Section Division V by CIF behind defending state champion St. Margaret’s.

“Basically this whole season we’ve been working toward the final goal and that is definitely a podium finish and we would like to bring home a state title,” said Flintridge Prep boys’ Coach Ingrid Herskind, whose squad will kick off the meet in the opening race at 8:30 a.m.

The Rebels finished second behind St. Margaret’s at the CIF Southern Section Cross-Country Divisional Championships at Mt. San Antonio College on Saturday despite placing four runners in the top 20, led by sixth-place Aaron Sugimoto.

Along with Thacher, which rounds out the top three in the Southern Section, the Rebels will also have to contend with St. Joseph’s Notre Dame of the North Coast Section and La Jolla Country Day of the San Diego Section, which are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the state by PrepCalTrack.com.

“We had a decent race [at CIF finals],” Herskind said. “We definitely have one more really good one left in our tank and the course we’re running on Saturday is very suitable to our style of racing, much more so than the Mt. SAC track.

“We’re basically very hungry. ...It’s been a great year of competition between the top three teams [in the division] and we’re really excited to have another chance at them.”

Behind Sugimoto on Saturday, Elias Ellison (10th, 15:09), Alan Yoho (15th, 15:23), Jack Van Scoter (16th, 15:24) and Tyler Fong (26th, 15:41) all formed a tight pack and will need to try and move up as a team today in order to have a shot.

“We have to really move up against the other teams,” Herskind said. “Aaron, I think, definitely, needs to get in front of their No. 2. And we’ll have Elias right behind Aaron. Basically, if we can get somebody up a tiny bit, it would make a huge difference.”

Flintridge Prep’s girls aren’t favored in their race, which begins at 9:30 a.m., but coach Michael Roffina said his team isn’t coming in with the happy-just-to-be-here mindset that characterized the team’s past couple of state trips.

“The last year or two we’ve gone up there just being honored to be able to run and I think this team definitely is committed to doing significantly better than we’ve done,” said Roffina, whose team finished fifth in a close Southern Section Division V race on Saturday. “They clearly know that a 22-point spread between the [No.] 2 [team] and 5 is meaningful to us because it essentially means if a couple of kids on our team want to really race up, then the numbers could change really dramatically.”

Kate Evans led the Rebels on Saturday with a 23rd-place finish, but all of the team’s next four runners placed inside the top 30 and Roffina said it’s anyone’s guess among Sarah Yoho, Lacy Coan and Ashley Lara as to who will lead the charge today.

“We haven’t had a consistent No. 1 this year, so I honestly don’t know who’s going to be No. 1 [on Saturday], but I know at least three of them want to be,” Roffina said. “As those go, the other three go and five, six and seven understand that this is totally about how many people they are going to pass. We’ll do better if we keep track of how many we pass.

“They’re all in good shape, they’re all ready to go and they’re very competitive. Our goal is not to just go up there and race, but our goal is to go up there and do better than ninth last year.”

While the Crescenta Valley boys missed the cut for state, their junior leader Gabe Collison qualified as an individual in Division I on Saturday by posting the fastest time among locals and placing ninth.

“I didn’t think I would be here when I started,” said Collison, who will race at 9 a.m. “The whole season has been a great surprise, but a nice surprise.”

Without team strategy to worry about, Collison said his game plan is simplified to going all out to challenge favorites Juan Gonzalez of El Toro and Mitchell Pratt of Pacific League nemesis Arcadia, who are ranked first and second, respectively, by PrepCalTrack.com.

“I kind of feel special going up there on my own,” Collison said. “Even though the rest of the guys can’t race with me, I can show my potential to the Arcadia and El Toro guys.”

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