Crescenta Valley High girls' cross-country looks to make run at Pacific League title, state

LA CRESCENTA — Perhaps it’s fitting that the expectations of the six local girls’ cross-country teams are as wide-ranging as the size of each squad.

As the seasonbegan this week, those schools each had divergent goals, led by Crescenta Valley High.

The Falcons are back after a runner-up finish at the Pacific League finals and a 12th-place effort at the CIF Southern Section Division I championships.

Perhaps just as exciting for the squad is the fact that five of seven of its runners return – including four of five scorers – from the silver-medal team last season.

“We have a lot of experience coming back from last year and lot of competition on the back end,” said Falcons 16-year-veteran Coach Mark Evans. “Our challenge will be to get a good group of young girls to take our fifth, sixth and seventh spots.”

Perhaps the Falcons return the area’s most dynamic runner in junior Megan Melnyk, who advanced to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet in the 800-meter run with a mark of 2 minutes, 12.34 seconds.

Melnyk might represent the best chance for the Falcons to challenge the league’s top two returners in senior Veronica Yamane and junior Laura Guidolin of Arcadia, who finished first (18 minutes, 4.96 seconds) and second (18:17.71), respectively, at league finals at Crescenta Valley Park on Nov. 1, 2012.

Melnyk finished fourth that day in 18:48.02 and later led her team in taking ninth (18:39) at the Division I preliminaries before finishing 52nd (17:36) at the divisional finals.

“Megan is solid coming back and will likely be the top runner,” Evans said, “but you can’t forget Erika Johnson. She was great despite being hurt. You put her in the mix with Haley Witzeman and you have a strong three.”

Johnson took the bronze at league finals in 18:42.18 and was her squad’s highest finisher at the divisional championships as she took 29th (17:09).

Likely joining Melnyk, Johnson and Witzeman (eighth at league finals in 19:31.09) in the Falcons’ scoring corps are sophomores Rebecca Mencia (19th at league finals in 20:39.90) and Hoover sophomore transfer Samantha Bernardo (finished 37th at league finals in 22:38.68).

Arcadia, the lone Pacific League team ranked in the 2013 preseason poll at No. 6, topped Crescenta Valley, 34-40, at league finals, but graduated three of its top seven runners from last year.

“We know they’re a great program, but if our last three or four runners can hold up, we have a chance,” Evans said.

Maybe the biggest change this offseason took place at Flintridge Prep, where 16th-year coach Mike Roffina is enjoying a renaissance of sorts at a school that’s already enjoyed its fair share of cross-country success.

While Roffina returns six of his top seven from a squad that finished 12th in the Division V CIF State Meet, fifth at the CIF Southern Section Division V championships and runner-up in the Prep League finals to Mayfield Senior, the Rebels had an extra big bonus in the form of 18 freshmen who joined the program this offseason.

“We’ve got 35 girls in the program. It’s amazing, I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years coaching,” Roffina. “We’re a small school, a school that has 50 or 60 total freshman girls. We’re in Division V, but that’s something a Division I school gets. And honestly, I don’t know where that is coming from.”

Those numbers come along with high expectations as the Rebels are ranked No. 1 in all of Southern California and No. 5 by in Division V, while the CIF Southern Section ranking placed the Rebels at No. 2 in the section behind Woodcrest Christian.

Back for the Rebels in 2013 is junior Lacy Coan, the squad’s highest finisher at the Prep League finals at Pierce College on Oct. 27. Coan took ninth last season in 19:35.

By comparison, Mayfield placed its scoring five ahead of Coan in romping to a victory over the Rebels, 30-72.

Yet, this year will certainly be different as the Division IV sixth–ranked Cubs graduated their top four runners.

“I don’t want to say we’ll win league, because we respect Mayfield,” Roffina said, “but I will say we’re excited about league.”

Following Coan this season are seniors Sarah Yoho (12th at league finals, 20:16), Kate Evans (15th, 20:27) and Cassidy Redding and junior Ashley Lara (16th, 20:33).

Twenty years of experience have not tempered the expectations of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Coach Kirk Nishiyama, but rather have given him clarity in regards to his team’s expectations within the highly-competitive Mission League and beyond.

“This is a great league with some amazing talent. We’d love to win the Mission League, but we know how difficult a league it is,” Nishiyama said. “Our goal this year is the same as always, which is to reach state.”

Last season, the Tologs finished third behind powerhouses Harvard-Westlake and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, who are expected to once again be formidable. Perhaps as further testament to the league’s strength, Flintridge Sacred Heart breezed passed the CIF Southern Section Division IV prelims and eventually took 13th at the divisional finals.

The good news for Flintridge Sacred Heart is that two of its top three runners from league finals are back, led by senior Maddie Peterson, who finished runner-up on the squad to the graduated Gabby Fitzpatrick (ninth, 19:26) by taking 10th last season (19:33) at league finals.

“Maddie is our All-Mission League runner from last year and she’s definitely a leader,” Nishiyama said. “I think she can move up the top 10 this year.”

Peterson is expected to pace a pack that includes junior Kayla Grahn (14th in league in 20:19) and senior Riley Gilmartin, while the team welcomes back senior Daisy Beckmer from injury and slew of runners hoping to prove their mettle in junior Katherine Laco, sophomores Kristina Mercolino and Clare Lund and freshmen Katie Gulick and Monica Collins.

While coaches have to consistently deal with turnover, sometimes unexpected losses come by transfer.

Such a loss hit Glendale High, as sophomore Lena Setian, Glendale’s most consistent runner the last two seasons, transferred to Clark Magnet School in La Crescenta.

The defection represents a devastating blow, as Setian finished fifth at the Pacific League finals in 18:58.12 and was the Nitros’ lone runner in the top 25.

While Glendale did not advance to the Division I prelims as a team, Setian moved on as an individual and took 25th in her heat in 19:36 in what was her swan song.

Without Setian, it may be difficult to envision Glendale finishing the same or higher than its fifth-place spot last season.

Nitros longtime Coach Bob Bailey is hoping that juniors Caroline Cubero and Katlin McCraw can carry the load as the two experienced runners on a practically brand new team that includes newcomers in senior Cecile LeDuff and junior Leanne Quon.

“The vast majority of the girls on the team are new to cross-country,” Bailey said, “so I am hoping at least one or two will blossom early and join the varsity squad this season.”

City and league rival Hoover is pining to make a push up the league standings and be more competitive in 2013 after finishing sixth last year in league and failing to advance to the postseason.

“The main thing for us is to run together as a team,” Tornadoes Coach Jack Sallakian said. “We have some strong runners up front and I’m hoping the back of the pack can try to keep up.”

Senior Lucik Minassian is back as Hoover’s top runner after taking 25th at league finals in 21:10.

While Bernardo transferred to Crescenta Valley, junior Megan Mirkahanian and sophomores Leah Saunders and Renee Sallakian (daughter of Jack Sallakian) are back, while freshman Jasmine Lorenzana has shown promise.

“We’re in a tough league, but we’re going to do our best to be competitive,” Jack Sallakian said.

Competitiveness is a key phrase at Holy Family, where third-year coach Ernest Sy is hoping to make an impact in Division V.

“It’s hard to know how we’ll do in [the Horizon League] until we run our first league meet,” Sy said. “We’d love to have the team advance to CIF, but it will be a success if we can advance at least one individual.”

Of all the local squads, the Gaels may be the most senior-loaded, as the top four includes seniors Angelica Rodriguez, Alexandria Mendoza, Jaclyn Benitez and Ariel Maier.

“We have exactly seven runners on this team, so no one can be sick,” Sy quipped. “We’re not planning on running in any nonleague meets, so it’s just going to be in league to see how we do.”

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World