SAN MARINO — It isn’t often that finishing second earns a louder and more elated cheer than taking first.
However, after the conclusion of Thursday afternoon’s Rio Hondo League cross-country finals, La Cañada High’s Sonja Cwik couldn’t help but holler a bit before hugging teammates.
That’s because the junior, who finished second individually, led the Spartans’ reconquest of the Rio Hondo League title as La Cañada defeated defending league champion South Pasadena, 32-37.
“I’m just really happy and am so excited. That’s the whole point of cross-country and running, that your team does well,” said Cwik, who finished in a time of 18 minutes, 38.4 seconds.
Cwik was simultaneously locked in a battle for the individual league title with South Pasadena sophomore Helena Van Loan, while also trying to lead her squad.
So, Cwik started quickly and took a lead over Van Loan and Monrovia’s Amanda Mansoorbakht through the first mile.
It wasn’t until a mile and a half into the race that Van Loan surged ahead to take control.
“I went faster than my actual pace because Sonja pushed it the first mile,” Van Loan said. “I was with her early and then I took it from there.”
Both girls separated from the pack at the race midway point before Van Loan extended her lead to 10 seconds at the two-mile mark and eventually cruised to a win in 18:20.
La Cañada, ranked ninth in Division III of the CIF Southern Section, and 11th-ranked South Pasadena alternated positions through the first six spots with junior Anna Frederich taking fourth (19:07.9) and freshman Coleen Mispagel earning sixth (19:18.1).
Senior Meghan Fuelling then finished eighth (19:23.0) as La Cañada’s fourth runner, ahead of South Pasadena’s fourth girl, Kaylee Anderson (10th, 19:36.6).
The win wasn’t secured, however, until Spartans junior Hannah Yoho finished 12th (20:02.0), well ahead of South Pasadena’s final scorer Remeny White (18th, 20:56.2).
“The girls have been working and training hard all year long, they deserve this. They’ve earned this,” La Cañada Coach Jenn Strople said. “The girls became more mentally tough as the season continued. They knew what they had to do to win today and they ran a great race.”
The win capped a solid comeback for La Canada, which lost the league’s opening meet at Lacy Park this season, 27-36, but rebounded and defeated the Tigers, 30-34, in the second league meet at Crescenta Valley Park on Oct. 12.
With the victory, La Cañada advances to the CIF Southern Section divisional preliminaries on Nov. 12 at Mt. San Antonio College. The Spartans will be joined by the Tigers and San Marino, which finished third with 78 points.
On the boys’ side, the Spartans will also head to Mt. SAC after taking third in a race full of surprises as South Pasadena won the league championship with 31 points, ahead of both San Marino (52) and La Cañada (71).
“This was a rebuilding year for us, having lost four seniors from last year,” La Cañada Coach Andy Ligeti said. “So, it’s satisfying to make it to CIF.”
Senior Brendan Greene was La Cañada’s top finisher, and nearly won the race, as he took third in 15:50.4.
South Pasadena's Alex Tranquada jumped out to an early lead and stayed up front through the first two miles before Greene emerged in first on the second-to-last downhill run with about a mile left.
Greene stayed ahead of South Pasadena's Paul Messana and San Marino’s Peaky Yuter for the next half mile, until he hit the final 100 meters about five seconds ahead of Yuter, who moved into second.
Yuter then sprinted as Greene slowed and pushed ahead with 20 meters to go before winning.
“I've been practicing my downhill and my sprints,” said Yuter, who finished second in the second league meet. “It wasn't always my strong point.”
Messana, who won the first race, also clipped Greene over the final five meters to take second in 15:49.9.
“I half-expected [Yuter] with 800 meters left in the race that he would out-kick me,” said Greene, who won the second league meet. “I know I don’t have much of a sprint after racing three miles. That’s unfortunately just one weakness I have.”
The Spartans’ scoring third-place team included Brandon Newquest (10th, 17:10.3), Mathew Schwartz (16th, 17:36.6), Jonathan Skaggs (20th, 17:41.0) and Dillon Bromely (22nd, 17:52.9).