La Cañada track and field coach Andy DiConti is starting to see his program pan out the way he would like.
The second-year coach is seeking improvement from last season’s marks, and to do that, he’s expanded his coaching staff to focus on an athlete’s key strengths and hone in on them to bring out the best of their abilities.
At St. Francis, it returns a decorated athlete in senior Matthew Molina, while Flintridge Preo and Flintridge Sacred Heart should both have their share of talent.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
“We ended the year last season pretty well,” DiConti said. “We had a lot of participants in CIF, so I think that helped out, but I think our goal is just to be more well-rounded and getting the experts in place, but these things takes time.
“We have a healthy coaching staff and I think the kids see that. We’re all specialized. I think that helps.”
With the expansion of the coaching crew comes an expanded team, with 35 new additions to bring the number of athletes to more than 100.
Now, with the coaching staff up to five, each group of athletes will have a coach, easing the load a bit for DiConti and his two other coaches that have returned from last season.
“We’re trying to get that buy-in,” DiConti said. “We’re definitely better than last year in sense. But, really, our goal is to have fun. We want our kids to have fun. I think when the coaches are happy, the kids will be happy. I’m in my element. I love coaching the distance runners. Everybody’s doing their thing.”
DiConti hopes the Spartans will be able to make some noise in the Rio Hondo League and and compete with defending champion South Pasaden.
To topple the Tigers, however, DiConti reflects on the champions’ past to help his Spartans regroup for their future.
“South Pasadena had a couple of athletes here and there,” DiConti said. “That’s what we had last year. We had Ellaney [Matarese] and Sarah [Auther] take it to CIF finals, but, just the two of them, scored 14 points and beat South Pasadena as a team at CIF, which was cool because they kicked our butt in league.
“It takes those special athletes to break the mold and get that exposure for the team, and just slowly build up from there. We can’t just wait for that to happen. We’re going to, hopefully, push it along.”
The Spartans can flex their muscles on all ends of the track, from the relays to the long-distance runners.
La Cañada senior Ryan Johnsen returns as the top sprinter for the boys side and will also compete in the long jump and high jump.
DiConti has a promising junior pole vaulter in David Miketta, who is already ranked No. 22 in the state in Division III.
“We see him, if not this year, we see a state contender,” DiConti said. “He’s clearing 14 feet with a lot of room. If you make 15, you’re going to state and it’s only his second year doing it. He just takes do it like a duck to water.”
Spartans senior Owen Serricchio makes his return as the top middle- and long-distance runner for the Spartans, while newcomer junior Sheldon Watanabe adds strength to the 800-meter competition.
On the girls side, Matarese, a sophomore, highlights a strong set of athletes, and the CIF Southern Section Division III finalist is looking to work her way into state competition.
“She wants to make it state, but she’s got to get to Masters first,” said DiConti. “She’s so tough. She has a legitimate shot.”
La Cañada junior Sarah Auther returns and adds depth in the distance events, while sophomore Artis Phillips will lead the 400 runners.
In the hurdles is sophomore Haley Decker, who will run the 300, and senior Aleksandra Dudek, who’ll partake in the 100 and 300 races.
For the field, DiConti sees Sydney Mueller making an impressive jump and looks to see her hit 30 feet on her throws.
Molina did plenty right in leading the charge for St. Francis in 2018. He won Mission League championships in the 110 hurdles in 14.96 seconds and the high jump at 6 feet, 7 inches. At the Division III finals, he registered winning marks of 14.73 in the hurdles and 6-6 in the high jump before reaching state in the high jump with a sixth-place finish at 6-6.
“What Matthew did last year was absolutely incredible,” St. Francis coach Mike Russell said. “It’s about his determination and belief that he’s the best. He’s certainly capable of becoming a seven-foot jumper. He’s bigger and stronger now.”
Molina will be joined by senior Stuart Serventi (distance), senior Malcomb Wallace (sprints/jumps/hurdler), senior Dennis Flowers III (sprints), junior Bryson Reeves (sprints/high jump), and junior Miles Mason (sprints/relays).
“We’re looking forward to the season,” Russell said. “We have experience in certain events, but will be young in other events.”
Things appear bright for Flintridge Prep, a member of the Prep League. Both boys’ and girls’ squads will bring back a contingent looking to make their move up in league under coach Scott Jung.
“We’ll have plenty of new faces on the boys’ side,” Jung said. “The good thing is that we’ll have a lot more depth in different events and we think we’ll continue to show a lot more improvement.
“With the girls, we’ll be pretty strong in the distance events and we’ll be expecting to compete for more points in the field events. We just need a few more pieces to challenge for the league championship.”
Paving the way for the boys will be senior distance runners Carson Hasbrouck and Sebastian Evans, along with junior Evan Gi (sprints), junior Alex Boquet (jumps) and sophomore Andrew Odom (middle distance).
The girls will turn to senior distance athletes Haley Allen and Sasha Codiga, junior sprinter Julie Lee and freshman Chase Sullivan (throws/jumps).
FLINTRIDGE SACRED HEART ACADEMY
There will be a handful of returning athletes for Flintridge Sacred Heart, which will spend the next two seasons competing in the Sunshine League after being in the Mission League.
The Tologs will bring back their core, yet will look vastly different with the addition of athletes who previously competed on the junior varsity squad.
Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Johnathan Keys said he’s intrigued about the prospects of the Tologs’ foundation.
“We’ll have a lot of quality athletes,” Keys said. “I think we are set up pretty nicely for the next couple of years.
“I think we’ll be able to do fairly well and surprise some people.”