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Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year: Flintridge Prep girls' soccer breaks through

Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year: Flintridge Prep girls' soccer breaks through
The Flintridge Prep girls' soccer team captured the CIF Southern Section Division III championship, the first in program history. (Dan Watson)

Chosen by the La Cañada Valley Sun sports staff, here are the top 10 sports stories of 2018.

1 Flintridge Prep girls’ soccer wins elusive title — After years of coming up short in their quest to win a CIF Southern Section championship, the Rebels finally reached the summit

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Led by coach Esteban Chavez and a terrific core that included Julia Gonzalez, the All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, Helen Schaefer, Mika Celeste, Lindsey Uteda and others, Flintridge Prep put things together and marched through a difficult nonleague schedule before capturing the Prep League title and ultimately the biggest prize — the CIF Southern Section Division IIi championship.

Flintridge Prep outscored its league opponents, 74-6, en route to finishing 10-0.

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In the postseason, Flintridge Prep turned back Buena, Culver City, West Torrance and Mayfair to reach the championship match for the first time in program history.

Flintridge Prep completed its sensational run with a 3-1 win against Garden Grove Pacifica.

In the Southern California Regional Division III final, Flintridge Prep suffered a 3-2 defeat in overtime against Our Lady of Peace.

Flintridge Prep, which won 22 matches in a row at one point, finished 26-5-4 and tallied 164 goals, good for fourth most in Southern Section history.

2 La Cañada girls’ tennis captures championship — Things came together quite well for the Spartans, who ended a 41-year drought by capturing the CIF Southern Section Division II championship in November at the Claremont Club.

After finishing second in the Rio Hondo League, La Cañada (14-4, 6-2 in league) got on a roll in the postseason. It defeated Brentwood, second-seeded Redlands, Claremont and fourth-seeded Long Beach Poly to advance to the championship match.

La Cañada basked in championship glory following a resounding 13-5 win versus Aliso Niguel.

The Spartans, coached by veteran Will Moravec, were anchored by elite singles player Sophie McKenzie and Maya Urata and the doubles tandem of Ashley Chun and Eliana Hanna.

It marked the first CIF championship for the program since winning the Division III-A title in 1977.

3 Another coaching milestone for Tom Hofman — Since arriving at La Cañada in 1986, Hofman has piloted the Spartans to two CIF championships and 26 Rio Hondo League championships.

Hofman achieved another watershed moment in January, when he picked up his 700th career victory. La Cañada earned an 82-55 league home win against South Pasadena to put Hofman in some established company.

Hofman became the 17th, and the eighth active, high school boys' basketball coach in California to register 700 victories.

Hofman became just the fifth coach in the CIF Southern Section to reach the 700-win mark, the eighth in the state to win all 700 games at one school and just the third to accomplish the feat in the Southern Section.

4 Danny Syrkin dazzles at CIF swimming finals — No matter the stage, Syrkin proved he could dominate.

The La Cañada High sophomore boys’ swimmer went about his business in a timely fashion by setting new records and piling up championships en route to being tabbed the All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year and the La Cañada Valley Sun Boys’ Athlete of the Year.

Syrkin enjoyed a banner campaign that included four total Rio Hondo League championships and three CIF Southern Section Division III titles. Syrkin owns school records in the 50-yard freestyle (20.76 seconds), 100 butterfly (47.48) and as part of the 200 medley relay (1:32.98)..

In May, Syrkin helped the Spartans to a league team crown as he was part of four league-title events with victories in the 50 free (20.76) and 100 fly (47.91), which were meet records, the 200 medley relay (1:33.53), also a meet record, and the 400 freestyle relay (3:11.03). Syrkin further excelled at the CIF Southern Section Division II finals. It came with a moment of redemption, too.

Syrkin teamed with Eddie Cosic, Thomas Hoffman and Matt Bilaver to capture the 200 medley relay in a Division II record 1:32.98. It came a season after the Spartans' medley relay squad finished first at the meet, but was disqualified and the championship was removed.

Syrkin also won the 100 butterfly in a recording-setting mark of 48.47. He then finished first in the 100 backstroke in 48.47 to help La Cañada finish third in the competition.

5 Matthew Molina enjoys impressive spring run — It’s quite a run the St. Francis High junior track and field standout likely won’t forget..

Molina set a personal best and set a school record in the high jump with a leap of 6 feet, 8 1/4 inches at a Mission League meet. At the league finals, Molina captured championships in the high jump (6-7) and the 110-meter hurdles in 14.96 seconds.

Molina enjoyed a banner performance at the CIF Southern Section Division III finals, winning the high jump at 6-6 and the 110 hurdles in 14.73.

Next up at the Masters Meet, Molina finished fifth in the high jump at 6-6 to qualify for the state meet. Molina’s bid to participate in two events at state was foiled following an eighth-place finish in the 110 hurdles in 14.95.

At the CIF State Track and Field Championships, Molina concluded his season with a sixth-place mark of 6-6.

6 Bob Baffert makes it a second triple crown — Baffert, a La Cañada Flintridge trainer, didn’t have to wait long to win a second Triple Crown. Just four years.

Justify, a three-year-old colt, was victorious at the 150th rendition of the Belmont Stakes at venerable Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., in June. Justify won by less than two lengths across the 1 1/2-mile course. It marked the 13th Triple Crown in racing history.

Baffert and horse American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought by winning the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing's top prize, in 2015.

Baffert matched the feat of James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, who accomplished the achievement in 1930 and 1935.

7 Flintridge Prep girls’ basketball gets back to finals — With a relatively young squad, Flintridge Prep likely surprised many with its accomplishments.

The Rebels won the Prep League title for the fifth straight season before embarking on another deep playoff run. It culminated with the Rebels advancing to the finals for the second time in threes seasons.

Anchored by forward and All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year Kaitlyn Chen, Flintridge Prep (24-7, 12-0 in league) advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship under co-coaches Kevin Kiyomura and Jayme Kiyomura Chan.

Flintridge Prep topped California, Oxnard Pacifica, Cerritos and top-seed Oxford Academy to reach the championship contest.

Riding a 19-game winning streak into the championship game, fourth-seeded Flintridge Prep lost, 50-46, to second-seeded Beverly Hills.

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8 Flintridge Prep boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams march to state — The Rebels proved to be among the top teams in the state on both stages.

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Both teams captured Prep League championships. The boys’ squad won its 21st league title in the last 22 seasons and the girls captured their second league crown in the last three years.

At the CIF Southern Section Division V finals, Flintridge Prep’s boys team took second with 111 points and the girls registered 89 to claim runner-up status. Both squads finished behind St. Margaret’s.

After winning four state championships in a row, the girls took third at the CIF State Meet at Woodward Park in Fresno with 166 points, The Rebels were paced by Haley Allen, Hope Codiga and Sasha Codiga.

On the boys’ side, the Rebels finished sixth in state with 211 points. Flintridge Prep was led by Carson Hasbrouck and Bennett Oakes.

9 Ingrid Herskind steps down at Flintridge Prep boys’ cross-country coach — An amazing run ended in January when Herskind stepped down from the coaching ranks to take an administrative job at Flintridge Prep.

It turned out to be a stellar 21-year run for Herskind, who piloted the Rebels to 20 Prep League and six CIF Southern Section championships, with individuals winning five titles.

At state, Herskind’s squads captured five crowns and finished in the top three 16 times with two athletes garnering championship accolades.

“We have built an amazing running climate and I am proud to have worked with these young men over the past 21 years. I can't wait to see them take on new challenges,” Herskind said.

10 La Cañada girls’ basketball rolls to another league championship — The Spartans won their third straight Rio Hondo League championship under coach Sarah Beattie, a La Caðada High graduate and former player.

La Cañada finished 23-5, 10-0 in league. In the CIF Southern Section Division III-A playoffs, La Cañada, led by league most valuable player Tess Oakley-Stilson, defeated Bonita before falling to Newbury Park.

It also marked the end of a successful run for the Spartans, who saw Beattie step down in March to focus on her teaching responsibilities. During Beattie’s coaching tenure, the Spartans went 75-16, 30-0 in league.

In 2016, Beattie led the Spartans to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A and CIF State Division IV Southern California championship games for the first time in program history. La Canada fell to antelope Valley in both contests.

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