For a second consecutive autumn, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy cross-country team returns a host of returners.
Last season, that notion elicited a good deal of promise from Tologs veteran Coach Kirk Nishiyama.
However, a string of inconsistent efforts plagued Sacred Heart for much of last year. But it was how the Tologs ran when it counted most that has Nishiyama once again excited about the prospects of having most of his cast back for the 2011 cross-country campaign.
"I think our varsity didn't really come together until late," Nishiyama said. "They know what they want to accomplish.
"I think there's a lot more confidence."
The confidence comes on the heels of the Paulina Antaplyan-led Tologs taking third in the CIF-State Division IV meet last season and returning with the likes of Antaplyan, Stephanie Vargas and Riley Gilmartin once again leading the way.
"If we stay healthy, we should be pretty good," Nishiyama said. "That's the key is if we can stay healthy."
The Tologs, who enter the season ranked fourth in CIF Southern Section Division IV, were one of two local teams to make it to the state meet in Fresno last year, with Mike Roffina's Flintridge Prep squad earning a berth in the Division V meet.
Flintridge Prep, which is ranked second in Division V, is absent of any senior leadership and, a bit unexpectedly, lost its best runner, as Kaitlyn Kelleher, a junior, decided to focus on club soccer.
"We are in a very interesting transition," said Roffina, whose team took third in the highly competitive Prep League last season before advancing to the CIF-State Division V finals and taking 10th. "We gained a couple of freshman and we lost a junior. We're a younger team than we were last year, but we might be better."
With a trio of returning sophomores — Kate Evans, Audrey Levy and Sarah Yoho — and a suddenly emergent Grace Broyles, a junior, as the core of the team, Roffina is particularly excited about the future, but admittedly uncertain about the immediate fortunes of his team.
"It's good for the future, but I don't know what that means for this year."
After spending most of last season searching for the final addition to its top five, La Cañada enters 2011 with a group of five strong runners and a new coach, Jenn Strople.
Senior captain Meghan Fuelling, juniors Sonja Cwik and sophomores Anna Frederich and Eloise Dimase-Nordling are set to fill in the top four spots.
"With a strong returning base like that we are pretty lucky," Strople said.
Hannah Yoho, a junior, is competing for the final top spot.
"Hanna Yoho is looking really strong and we have a couple of freshmen that look strong, but it's still early in the season to say where they are going to fall," Strople said.
It's also still up in the air as to who will be leading the pack, too. Frederich emerged in her freshman season and placed first in the Rio Hondo League final meet last year.
"Sonja had a little bit of a rough season last year, but her track season was phenomenal," Strople said. "I imagine she will take that top spot, but Anna is right behind her. It's a good situation for us [having two top runners]."
With a strong core, the Spartans have set their sights high.
"They are really hoping to qualify for CIF and winning league is definitely a goal," Strople said. "I think it's an attainable one."