Flintridge Prep cross-country leads way at CIF prelims

Maybe the only cross-country race of the season in which winning takes a back seat to qualifying was at Saturday's day-long CIF Southern Section Divisional Preliminaries at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

Crescenta Valley High's and Flintridge Prep's boys' and girls' teams, along with the girls' squads from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Hoover all attempted to qualify to the following week's divisional finals with some moving on and others falling short.

At the end of the day, both Rebels squads moved on, along with the Falcons' boys' team and the Tologs.

Perhaps Crescenta Valley best displayed this dichotomy, as there was both celebration and heartbreak in the school's tent.

The Crescenta Valley boys, who appeared shaky only a week earlier, looked super on Saturday as the Falcons took second in the first heat of Division I action with 63 points, which topped Pacific League champion Arcadia (65), was within striking distance of race-winner Great Oak and easily propelled the squad to the finals.

"They were really relaxed and ran a good, solid race," Falcons Coach Mark Evans said. "We weren't going for [personal records] or anything like that, they were just looking to run well and they did."

One of the bigger questions revolved around Falcons senior Gabe Collison, who missed a couple of days this week because of the flu.

Collison, however, was good enough to take second for his team and seventh overall in 15 minutes, 28 seconds. Collison's teammate, Nick Beatty, was the squad leader in finishing fourth in 15:24, while senior Matt Manalo (10th, 15:35) turned in a third top-10 effort for the Falcons. Senior Matt Owens (16th, 15:47) and junior Manav Vatts (27th, 16:05) also turned in strong showings for the Falcons.

On the flip side, despite a decent race, the Crescenta Valley girls were knocked out of fourth place and the final qualifying spot in their Division I second heat race by Valencia, 110-136.

"Sometimes that happens. The girls ran a pretty good race, but Valencia was just better," Evans said. " Valencia has gotten a lot better in the last two weeks and they really put it together today."

Junior Megan Melnyk was Crescenta Valley's top placer and just missed moving on by two positions as she was eighth (18:22) and was joined by Rebecca Mencia (25th, 19:08), Haley Witzeman (27th, 19:15) and Erika Johnson (38th, 19:38).

The Flintridge Prep boys and girls were their usual dominant selves on Saturday afternoon.

For the boys, sophomore Nikhil Poole led a five-pack that took positions fourth through eighth with a mark of 16:42, which was immediately followed by sophomore Jack Van Scoter (16:42), senior Alan Yoho (16:43), senior Tyler Fong (16:43) and freshman Riley Coan (16:48).

With those places, the Rebels easily rolled to a 30-77 victory over Ontario Christian, while their team time of 1:23:38 was second-fastest in the division to Thacher (1:23.25).

The Rebels' girls were also a winner in the first heat of Division V, claiming a 41-100 victory over Thacher with the division's best team time of 1:39:09.

While senior Sarah Yoho did not participate due to soreness, the Rebels didn't miss a beat thanks to junior Ashley Lara, who was third in 19:18, right ahead of freshman Natalie O'Brien (fourth, 19:29).

Lacy Coan (eighth, 19:40), Maia Cohen (15th, 20:15) and senior Kate Evans (18th, 20:27) took the Rebels' last three scoring spots.

While the Rebels enjoyed a cakewalk, Flintridge Sacred Heart was in a fight to the finish and qualified by nine points, as the Tologs held off Costa Mesa, 126-135, for fifth place and the final qualifying berth in the third heat of Division IV.

"I'm very proud of the girls and we had some people step up today. We've had injuries that have hurt us, so to make the finals again is special," Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama said. "We can't forget what a privilege this is."

Junior Kayla Grahn paced Flintridge Sacred Heart in a race won by Mission League rival Harvard-Westlake (64 points) by taking 15th in 19:51, ahead of fellow Tologs Maddie Peterson (20th, 20:09) and sophomore Clare Lund (28th, 20:54), both of whom later participated in the Division I-A girls' volleyball playoffs.

"You want to talk about stepping up. Our two volleyball girls did that and so did Kayla, who led us once again," Nishiyama said. "But I can't forget about freshman Sara Vargas. She got us some important points, especially since we won by nine."

The aforementioned Vargas was 29th in 20:55, while freshman Katie Gullick (38th, 21:36) rounded out the Tologs' scoring.

An already historic season came to a conclusion for Hoover High, as the Pacific League fourth-place Tornadoes finished 14th with 347 points in the first of three heats in a Division III in a race claimed by Bishop Amat (85 points).

Hoover, which hadn't advanced this far since 2002, was led by Lucik Minassian in her swan song as the senior placed 56th (20:28), while teammates Megan Mirkhanian (61st, 20:42) and Preny Riganian (62nd, 20:43) were close behind.

andrew.campa@latimes.com

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