It took only one season for the Flintridge Prep boys' cross-country team to reclaim its spot atop the Prep League and continue on for its traditional trip into the top-five echelon of the CIF-State Division V hierarchy.
After a 16-year Prep League title run ended for the Rebels in 2009, the 2010 Rebels reclaimed their top spot and moved on to finish fourth in the state championships. While longtime Prep Coach Ingrid Herskind graduated four of her top seven runners, the Rebels hardly seem ready to do anything less than continue their glowing tradition.
"We've been able to put in a lot more work than we had last year," said Herskind, whose team enters the season ranked fourth by the CIF in Southern Section Division V. "I think really what we learned from the loss two years ago was that we took things for granted. I think what we learned last year is we really have to work."
The Rebels were joined in the postseason last season by St. Francis, as the Golden Knights reached their goal of returning to the CIF Southern Section Division III finals.
For Prep, despite its senior losses, Herskind is more than pleased with the emergence of senior Casey Thompson as a leader. The Arcadia transfer spent his time on the junior varsity squad last year due to transfer rules and was also hampered by injury. This year he's stepped up to lead on the course and off.
"He wants to lead his team up to the podium at state," Herskind said. "He's extremely committed to the team. … He pushes people hard."
Prep will likely be pushed hard at the Southern Section and state level by division heavyweights St. Margaret's, Lancaster Desert Christian and Woodcrest Christian — the respective top three teams in the division — while top-10 squads Pasadena Poly and Chadwick will look to dethrone the Rebels in Prep League action.
With the likes of senior Jake Johnson and a deep cast of others, though, Herskind likes her team's potential.
"I think Casey and Jake will be really nice frontrunners, but we're really solid with our next 10," Herskind said. "We're so, so thick as a pack that it's so cool. We're just gonna be ferocious. You might have a front guy, but we're gonna eat you up in the middle."
St. Francis Coach Patrick Donovan, however, isn't quite so fortunate to be able to reload with depth.
Instead, he's rebuilding with senior Colin Peterson as the only holdover from last season's CIF finals qualifier.
"It's definitely a rebuilding year," said Donovan, who will also look to senior Andrew Evans and junior JD Kieffer to lead the team's scoring five. "You hate to say you're rebuilding from the ground up, but we have a lot of guys who've just barely had some varsity races.
"We'll do what we can. You never know 'til you put your toes on the line and see what happens."
It's almost the same story for La Cañada, as the Spartans enter the season with a lot of unknowns after graduating four of their top five runners from last year. Brendan Greene, a senior, returns to guide the Spartans, who are being led by first-year coach Andy Ligeti.
"For now, Brendan is our No. 1 guy and he is totally committed to having a good season," Ligeti said of Greene, who led the team by finishing third in the Rio Hondo League finals last year. "I see him doing very well, not only in league, but going on into CIF."
Ligeti said he also has some talented underclassmen this year, but doesn't quite know what to expect from them yet. For now, the two-through-five spots are up for grabs.
"We have a couple of freshmen and sophomores that look promising," Ligeti said. "I want to see how the season progresses and how they start performing and responding to race situations."