VAN NUYS — Injuries and depth issues played a large and detrimental factor at perhaps the most unfortunate time for both the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and St. Francis High cross-country programs at Wednesday afternoon's Mission League finals.
The Tologs, who appeared a shoe-in for the league's silver medal, instead settled for bronze for a second consecutive season as the injured squad was upset by Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, 76-80, for second place at league finals.
Flintridge Sacred Heart's consolation, though, is advancement, as the Tologs earned a spot to the CIF Southern Section Division IV preliminaries at Mt. San Antonio College on Nov. 16.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, they cannot make such a claim, as short-handed St. Francis took sixth for a third straight meet with 156 points and did not qualify to the postseason.
"We got what we needed from up front, but not from our three, four and five girls," Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama said. "We definitely had some injuries with Monica Collins running with a knee injury and it caught up to us."
The Tologs had toppled the Knights twice previously, first with a 58-82 victory at Woodley Park on Sept. 11 followed up a little less than a month later with a 58-76 win for Flintridge Sacred Heart on Oct. 3 at Crescenta Valley Park.
There was no reason to suspect any different, especially early on as the Tologs' top four of junior Kayla Grahn, senior Maddie Peterson, sophomore Clare Lund and Collins, a freshman, were all within the race's first 13 positions.
Yet, while Grahn and Peterson stayed up front, the rest of the pack began to drift as the race continued.
Eventually, Grahn led the Tologs by taking seventh in 19 minutes, 34 seconds with Peterson not far behind in 10th (19:38).
"It was tough and it was hot, way hotter than I thought," Grahn said. "I don't know if that played a factor, but we just weren't healthy today and that hurt us."
The Tologs' final scoring trio packed in 10 spots later as Lund (20:48), Collins (20:55) and senior Sara Vargas (20:56) took 20th through 22nd respectively, while non-scoring Tologs senior Riley Gilmartin was 25th in 21:15.
Notre Dame was led by Audrey Ellias (18:25), who finished runner-up to league champion Lizzy Thomas (17:59) of Harvard-Westlake. The Knights' ability to place three runners through the first 15 positions was enough to edge out the Tologs.
Even though Flintridge Sacred Heart had twice defeated Notre Dame, the Knights' win Wednesday counted as two victories and the tie-breaker.
"That's just the way it works out sometimes. I can understand what FSHA is feeling," Notre Dame Coach Jon Sutherland said. "Believe me that happened to us last year."
League champion Harvard-Westlake (27 points), Notre Dame and Flintridge Sacred Heart all punched their tickets to the postseason, while fourth-place Alemany (83), fifth-place Chaminade (110) and sixth-place Louisville (133) concluded their years.
On the boys' side, a top-four finish would have secured St. Francis a playoff berth.
Perhaps what was most frustrating to Golden Knights Coach Pat Donovan is that his team wasn't as close to gaining a postseason spot as he anticipated.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat or downplay this. We did terrible today," Donovan said. "We had some injuries, but we didn't get the type of results we needed from the guys out there. The goal every year is to reach the postseason and it's just frustrating to miss again."
Loyola romped to a league title with 18 points, led by league champion Robert Brandt (15:04).
The next three qualifying positions went to Crespi (72), Alemany (73) and Harvard-Westlake (95), while fifth-place Notre Dame (108) and seventh-place Chaminade (209) missed the cut along with St. Francis.
Sophomore Chris Rodriguez led the Golden Knights again by taking 22nd in 17:02, while junior Ian Gordon was 31st (17:39), sophomore Michael Vega was 33rd (17:51), senior Nick Sanchez was 34th (17:52) and junior Jack Lyons was 36th (18:02).
"We were running without Adam Lyons, one of our better runners, so that made today difficult," Rodriguez said. "We had to have other guys step in and it didn't work out the way we wanted."