2014 Top 10 Sports Stories: La Cañada High’s Kate Hansen introduces nation to luge, dance routine


From Russia to Denver to Fresno and several local places in between, 2014 proved to be an interesting year for several La Cañada Flintridge individuals and high school teams.

Although many of the stories deserve recognition, a select few stood out among the others.

Chosen by the Valley Sun, here is a list of the top 10 sports stories of 2014.

1 Kate Hansen luges to stardom at Olympics: With a winning smile, a 10-place finish, downright memorable dance moves and a captivating personality, Kate Hansen shined from La Cañada to Sochi and seemingly everywhere in between.

Realizing a lifelong dream, the then-21-year-old La Cañada High alumna made her Sochi Olympics luge debut in February in Russia.

Upon the conclusion of her four luge runs over two days on Feb. 10-11, Hansen took 10th place.

But, as if the significance of being one of the world’s elite athletes and reaching the Olympic stage weren’t enough, Hansen became a star off the luge track to truly make hers an Olympic experience to remember.

“I had so much fun. It was so cool to be a team with all the other U.S. athletes, to just be united,” Hansen said in March. “Just to feel like a member of Team USA, that was the coolest part.”

Hansen immediately drew acclaim when her pre-race warm-up routine became an instant sensation.

Popping-and-locking to Beyoncé, Hansen’s stardom saw her appear on “The Today Show” during the Olympic Games. Upon her return home stateside, she made appearances as local as the Cañada/Crescenta YMCA and as high-profile as “The Queen Latifah Show” and “American Ninja Warrior.” Her biggest thrill, might well have come when she threw out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game.

Her biggest notoriety likely came with her still in Sochi, however, when she appeared on “The Jimmy Kimmell Show” after Kimmell and Hansen got together to pull a prank in which a video was posted apparently showing a wolf roaming the athlete’s dorm-room hall.

2014 also started off with historical and phenomenal success for Hansen, who qualified for the Olympics late in 2013.

Hansen became the first American to win a World Cup singles race since 1997 when she won in Sigulda, Latvia in January. Posting a time of 1:23.976, Hansen truly began a calendar year to remember.

“It was more of a surprise than anything else,” Hansen emailed the Valley Sun. “Never in my dreams did I think I would ever medal in a World Cup, yet alone win.”

Hansen, whose exploits of earning an Olympics berth in 2013 were also the Valley Sun’s top sports story, took a break from the United States luge squad following her Olympics run, devoting her time to her studies at Brigham Young University.

But whether the lifelong La Cañada Flintridge resident ever returns to the luge limelight again, Hansen’s athletic prowess, sudden stardom and overall winning personality made for a 2014 that won’t soon be forgotten.

2 St. Francis basketball goes to first-ever CIF championship: Despite tying for fifth place in the Mission League, the Golden Knights were awarded an at-large berth into the CIF-Southern Section Division III-A playoffs and were awarded the division’s second seed.

St. Francis, which finished with a 20-13 record, took advantage of its postseason bid by making the deepest run in school history.

An overtime scare in the first round of the playoffs at Yucca Valley in what turned out to be a Golden Knights’ 63-59 overtime victory gave St. Francis momentum, as the team defeated San Dimas (69-45) and Gladstone (55-43) in the second and third rounds.

The victories set up one of the biggest games in the high school history of La Cañada Flintridge, as No. 3-seeded La Cañada took on St. Francis in a semifinal game at Maranatha High on Feb. 28.

Two schools separated by mere feet were split by three points as the Golden Knights knocked off the Spartans, 56-53, to advance to the program’s first-ever CIF championship game.

In that contest at Azusa Pacific on March 7, the Golden Knights rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minute only to fall short, 60-53, in a victory for Oak Park.

“You assume we are dead and then we find a way to rise and make a comeback,” St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien said. “We are down five at 53-48 and we find a way to get back in it right away.

“We’ve come back before, but you have to give Oak Park credit for making some outside shots. We got a taste of playing in a championship game and it’s something our guys won’t soon forget.”

Despite the defeat, St. Francis picked up its first-ever state victory in the first round of the Division III playoffs, knocking off Kearny, 67-62, before a loss at Santa Margarita, 74-66, in the second round ended the season.

3 Christian Bergman gets call-up to majors: A former All-Area Baseball Player of the Year for St. Francis after leading it to a CIF championship appearance, a standout at UC Irvine and an all-star in the minor leagues, Bergman finally got the call to make his Major League Baseball debut in 2014 for the Colorado Rockies.

“The sun seemed to shine a little brighter that day. Everything went pretty well,” Bergman said. “It was a very surreal day. Starting going back to St. Francis and even before that and to think it was really happening; I wasn’t laying back at night thinking about it. It was a good day.”

Bergman debuted June 9 at Colorado’s Coors Field. He threw a quality start, but was saddled with the loss. Still, it was a solid debut and was magnified when he notched a single in his first-ever MLB at-bat.

Bergman held his own in the Rockies’ rotation before he was sent to the 60-day disabled list with a broken left hand. He came back, though, and finished the season with a 3-5 record, a 5.93 earned-run average and his foot in the door to continuing along with the major league career he’s long strived to accomplish.

4 La Cañada girls’ soccer advances all the way to first-ever CIF final: A stingy defense and just enough offense propelled La Cañada to the program’s first-ever CIF Southern Section championship game on March 8.

Heading into the Division V final at Corona High, the Spartans had allowed 10 goals through 23 contests.

Unfortunately for La Cañada, an inadvertent handball in the 97th minute allowed for a match-winning penalty kick for St. Margaret’s, which pulled out a 1-0 victory.

Despite the loss, it was a banner year for La Cañada, which finished with a 22-1-1 record and won the Rio Hondo League championship before going on a wild postseason run.

“This is the first La Cañada team to ever go this far and I thought they did great,” Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz said. “We were not really on our game today, but there’s no question that I thought we had the possession today.”

The Spartans defeated Heritage Christian (4-0) and California (2-0) in the first two rounds of the postseason before holding off Sage Hill, 1-1 (7-6) in a 10-round penalty kick session in the divisional quarterfinals. The win was followed by a 2-0 victory at Hemet, which sent La Cañada to the finals.

5 Flintridge Prep cross-country wins CIF, first-ever state championship: This past 2014 cross-country season was the greatest in the history of the Flintridge Prep girls’ program.

Flintridge Prep captured the program’s first-ever state championship, as the Rebels defeated archrival Mayfield Senior School, 58-88, at Fresno’s Woodward Park on Nov. 29.

In that race, Maia Cohen (11th, 19:15) led a pack that included Natalie O’Brien (12th, 19:16), Ashley Lara (13th, 19:28), Lacy Coan (14th, 19:29) and Gabi Bennett (26th, 19:43).

“When we finally heard it, we just let it all go. We were just bursting with excitement,” Lara said. “I picked up my coach (Jill Riehl) and twirled her in a circle. It definitely made our senior year. It was a great way to end it.”

The victory erased the memories of a disappointing third-place finish for the Rebels in 2013.

Prior to that state finals race, the Rebels won their second straight and third-ever CIF Southern Section Division V championship at Mt. SAC on Nov. 22, again defeating the Cubs, 36-42.

The Rebels also topped the Cubs, 30-36, at Pierce College on Nov. 1 for the Prep League championship.

6 La Cañada girls’ basketball team caps successful season and career for longtime coach Tamar Hill: What turned out to be the final season for Tamar Hill was one of the 14-year veteran’s best campaigns.

La Cañada finished 24-7, which tied the 2009-10 squad for most victories during Hill’s run, while the Spartans claimed a Rio Hondo League title and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, where they fell March 1 to eventual Division III-A champion Santa Margarita, 69-57.

Hill’s squad rebounded from the defeat and recorded a victory in the CIF State Division III Tournament, handing Eagle Rock its lone home defeat of the season, 52-49, in the first round March 12. It was the program’s first state victory.

The Spartans’ season and Hill’s career ended March 15 in a 55-43 second-round defeat at Santa Barbara.

“It’s emotional because you have to look into the eyes of your team and tell them you’re not coming back,” Hill said in March. “But, honestly, I just need a break.

“This was a great season to end my career as far as accomplishments go.”

Hill, who took over for Dennis Ballard before the 2000-01 season, compiled a 264-131 record (67% winning percentage), won eight Rio Hondo League titles and advanced to the postseason every year throughout her tenure.

Hill was replaced by former Brethren Christian Coach Jett del Mundo II in June.

7 Flintridge Prep’s Jack Van Scoter wins CIF cross-country title: It wasn’t that long ago when winning a CIF Southern Section individual divisional championship seemed unattainable for Flintridge Prep.

Yet, in 2013, All-Area Boys’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year Alan Yoho set a new standard for the Rebels by winning the Division V crown at Mt. San Antonio College.

Fast forward a year and junior Jack Van Scoter, the 2014 All-Area Boys’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year, created a trend and perhaps a tradition by also winning the Division V title back at Mt. SAC on Nov. 22 in a time of 15:07, which was nine seconds better than the second-place finisher and also equaled the area’s best mark.

“You have to come into it with the winner’s mentality,” Van Scoter said. “I never came here before with that.”

A week later, Van Scoter led the Rebels back to the podium at the CIF State Meet as a short-handed Flintridge Prep team took third.

8 St. Francis football has crazy offseason, phenomenal season, bitter ending: Following an ascent to the CIF Southern Section Western Division semifinals in 2013, St. Francis was thrust into a turbulent offseason.

Filled with CIF appeals and meetings, at one point it looked as though the Golden Knights would be moved up into the PAC-5 Division along with perennial Mission League powers Chaminade and Gardena Serra. But the move never materialized and St. Francis was immediately the favorite in the new Angelus League on top of being the odds-on pick to win the Southeast Division, where it had been moved.

Boasting a cavalcade of talent such as seniors John Carroll, Mason Williams, Jeremiah Martin and Matt Bayle along with junior standouts Avery Williams, Areg Nazarian and Dylan Crawford, St. Francis stood up to all the expectations and opponents in rolling to its first league crown since 1997 with a perfect 10-0 regular season.

As the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, St. Francis drubbed Mayfair in the opening round, but suffered significant injuries to Martin, the starting quarterback, and Bayle, a starting outside linebacker.

The Golden Knights were then upset in quarterfinals by La Serna, 38-35.

“Winning that Angelus League title, bringing it to St. Francis was definitely a great feeling,” Martin said. “And, yeah, we came up short of winning the CIF title, but, overall, I’m happy with how the team did and the season we had.”

9 La Cañada football returns to playoffs on heels of drama and controversy: In one evening, the fate of the La Cañada High football season both died and was resurrected.

It was believed that both La Cañada and Rio Hondo League rival South Pasadena controlled their own destiny and that a victory in the season finale on Nov. 7 at La Cañada would clinch the winner the league’s final automatic playoff berth.

On the field, the Tigers turned in perhaps their best defensive effort of the season in stifling the Spartans, 21-3.

The victory and playoff berth were short-lived, however, for South Pasadena as the team was informed after the game, when it reached its campus that Friday night, that the school had forfeited the victory due to an alleged rules violation by a member of the Tigers coaching staff.

“Guess what?” La Cañada first-year coach Ramsey Lambert asked his team after the defeat. “It’s not ideal, but you have another chance to show what you are made of.”

South Pasadena High Principal Janet Anderson informed parents that the school became aware of a rules violation Friday and forfeited the contest to La Cañada.

Despite a letter of protest from South Pasadena Coach Marty Konrad, a St. Francis High graduate and former Flintridge Prep coach, Temple City High principal Mary Jo King, the league commissioner, reaffirmed the CIF violation, which stated a member of the Tigers coaching staff illegally filmed La Cañada practices.

The Spartans advanced to the CIF Southern Section Central Division playoffs and lost on the road in the first round to Colony, 48-0.

10 FSHA swimming is perfect at Mission League final: An undefeated run through the Mission League meets translated into an even bigger event at the league finals for three-time league champion Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy on April 29 at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.

The Tologs won all 12 events at the Mission League finals, with standouts Kirsten Vose, Katie Altmayer and Kate Herrill winning four events apiece.

“For us, it was the best meet we’ve ever had in school history,” Tologs Coach Steve Bergen said. “It was a great day today.”

Vose claimed the 200-yard individual medley (2:05.86) and the 100 freestyle relay (50.63) and was part of the winning 200 medley relay (1:50.12) and 400 freestyle winning teams.

Altmayer captured the 200 free (1:54.98) and 100 fly (57.74) while being a member of both the 200 free (1:39.05) and 400 freestyle (3:31.98) championship teams.

Herrill was a member of the 200 free relay team, 400 free team and took home individual wins in the 50 free (23.62) and 100 breaststroke (1:04.82).

Honorable Mention: Flintridge Prep’s Marco Flores and Rebels’ boys’ swimming team find CIF title success; Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming relay team repeats as CIF champion; Flintridge Prep’s Weiss brothers advance to state meet in pole vault; La Cañada High tennis players and sisters Ally and Cassie McKenzie advance to CIF Individual semifinals.