LA CRESCENTA — The cross-country course at Crescenta Valley Park presented a number of opportunities for the La Cañada High runners in the second Rio Hondo League meet Tuesday.
For the Spartans boys’ team, it was a chance for them to upend a South Pasadena team that gained momentum after winning the first meet. Meanwhile, the La Cañada girls sought to continue their winning run against the Tigers, with junior Ellaney Matarese leading the way.
The Spartans girls’ team narrowly edged out the Tigers, 33-34, to win its second straight league meet behind Matarese’s first-place finish in 18 minutes, 38 seconds on the three-mile course.
Meanwhile, it was another second-place finish for the La Cañada boys’ runners, as South Pasadena won its second league meet, 26-39.
Tigers senior Sam Clark won the race in 16:36, while Spartans senior Sheldon Watanabe clocked 16:43 for second behind Clark, who won the first league meet at Lacy Park in San Marino in September.
“I think we ran to our potential,” La Cañada coach Andy Di Conti said. “I think we can run better, but that’s only going to help our position as a team. This is a really good South Pasadena team on the boys’ side, and this is probably a better team than last year.
“I still have hope for our team and I think top-10 CIF is realistic. Maybe not top-seven, but we’ll see. Girls, they’re going to get better and are still learning how to race. They’re getting stronger, but it’s going to be a battle. We’re definitely top-10 CIF, but so is South Pasadena. This is a stronger league this year.”
Matarese, the reigning league champion, has won the past five league meets for the Spartans, who are ranked No. 8 in CIF Southern Section Division IV.
“I thought it was a great race,” Matarese said. “I feel like I learned a lot about running on the hills and I think this was a really good course to practice on. I tried to just run fast on the uphills and stay relaxed when running on the downhills.”
There was little separation between the Spartans and the Tigers in the girls’ race that experienced confusion with the course layout among some runners. Spartans senior Sarah Auther took second in 19:41 and Tigers sophomore Sydney Morrow placed third in 19:48.
Matarese followed Auther in the final mile of the course, which was dully marked at a fork in the trail. The two, though still confused, circled around the final stretch of the park and finished strong.
“There’s a bunch of different ways that you go in the loop, so it’s a little bit confusing,” Matarese said.
La Cañada sophomore Jenna Milbrodt finished 10th in 20:44 and was followed by freshman Catherine Mispagel (12th; 21:04), sophomore Sophia Ponce (14th; 21:44) and freshman Caitlin Roehmholdt (18th; 22:05).
“The girls were close and I think the score could’ve been different, but there was a screw-up down [the course] that changed some of the plan,” Di Conti said. “But I don’t care if we win by half a point. The fact is, we won.”
Three of the Spartans boys’ runners, which are ranked 10th in Division IV, finished in the top-seven racers, with Watanabe’s second-place run an improvement from a fourth-place mark in the first league meet.
“I’m more of a track guy and my primary event is the 800-meters,” said Watanabe, who was overcoming an ankle sprain suffered in the the first league meet. “I basically took the first two miles easy. As soon as I hit a marker off of the top of the course, I knew I had a mile left still. That’s when I was turning it on.
“Coming back on the backside of the course is all downhill, so I started catching them one-by-one. I think this is one of the most clean races I’ve had. Everything went according to how I tried to make it happen, and it happened.”
La Cañada sophomore Ethan Lee finished in fifth with a time of 17:13, with junior Jaden Milbrodt (sixth; 17:14), seniors Maximus Fan (12th; 18:02) and Max Bohan Apfeldorf (14th; 18:16) and junior Marko Jovanovic (19th; 18:52) rounding out the Spartans running core.
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