NORWALK — Having overachieved all year in putting together a highly competitive season that culminated in qualifying five athletes for the CIF finals, the members of the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy track and field team could have been happy just to be at the 2010 CIF Southern Section Track and Field Divisional Finals at Cerritos College on Saturday.
The Tologs came to race, though, and put a fitting exclamation point on the end of a surprising campaign.
The effort was highlighted by a fifth-place finish by sophomores Drew Washington and Stephanie Vargas and freshmen Daelyn Moon and Noelle Niederhaus in the Division IV 4x400-yard relay to close a successful day.
In addition, sophomore standout Paulina Antaplyan closed out her rookie season with two personal records and another pair of fifth-place finishes in her individual events.
"We had some lofty goals, but we did it," said Tologs Coach Eddie Gorton, following his relay team's finish in 3 minutes 57.96 seconds. "Our goal was to come in top-five and break four minutes. I'm very proud of them."
The Tologs weren't the only area team to see some progress from their athletes. Flintridge Prep hurdler Brooke Elby and distance runners Dot Silverman and Jason Bunn were also in action.
Because Gorton employed a race-off between his five fastest sprinters in practice to determine the 4x400 lineup for the finals, it was the first time the quartet had raced together.
"When they said we got a 3:57, we were so excited," Niederhaus said. "We worked really hard for it all week, and it was worth it."
The strong showing capped a season in which the Tologs had a best-ever finish in the Mission League, coming nine points short of winning a league title.
"It was a great way to end the season, and I'm just so proud of this team because we put so much effort into it," Moon said.
The 4x400 race was fast overall, as winner Serra broke the old division record by more than five seconds with a 3:44.29.
"This feeling is so amazing," Washington said.
Added Vargas: "This season's been amazing."
It was a close head-to-head race within the Division IV 1,600 between Silverman and Antaplyan.
Silverman, a senior who dropped more than 6.5 seconds from her seed time while battling illness, finished fourth in the heat in 5:13.72, followed by Antaplyan in fifth in 5:14.80. The race was won by Chadwick junior Jaye Buchbinder in 4:57.83.
"Dot had the flu for the last two weeks, so we were excited for her to even get here," said Prep girls' cross-country Coach Ingrid Herskind, who coached Silverman in the 1,600. "It's not her best [time], she was a little disappointed, but she was very, very happy with her strategy.
"She ran strong and was passing people."
While it was the last hurrah for Silverman in an event she's steadily progressed in over her high school career, Saturday's 1,600 was the CIF finals debut for Antaplyan.
"I was nervous, but I think I was more excited just to go out and run my race," Antaplyan said. "I knew it was going to be really hard, so I didn't have any high expectations, but I ended up getting fifth so I was really glad."
Antaplyan was even more of a novice in the 3,200, having run it only twice before, at Mission League finals and at the Division IV prelims, where she had qualified in 11:26.79.
She shed more than 11 seconds from that mark on Saturday, running to fifth place in 11:15.36, a new school record.
"We were juiced that Paulina did so well," Gorton said. "If we had more meets [left this season], she would go faster. She's a specimen, and we're lucky to have her."
Washington finished eighth in the Division IV heat of the 400 in 60.55.
Starting on the far-outside lane, she was caught and passed by the pack around the halfway point and was in last place going into the final curve, recovering in time to beat last-place finisher Rachel Toliver (63.75) of St. Mary's Academy.
Bunn, a junior, reached an important goal set for himself, but did so by the skin of his teeth.
His eighth-place showing in the Division IV 3,200 came in exactly 9:59.59, allowing him to break 10:00.
Elby, a junior, finished eighth in the Division IV 300 low hurdles in 47.73, a slight drop from her seed time.
"Today was a really good day for all our athletes," Rebels Coach Nick Ponticello said. "We're pretty excited about [Bunn] breaking the 10-minute barrier.
"Coming out of last week, where we really weren't sure what we were gonna see, we're very proud of them. They really stepped up the level of competition here today."