Like any school and cross-country program, every season sees the Flintridge Prep boys' cross-country team deal with plenty of turnover due to graduation.
But unlike any other boys' program in the area, the Rebels seemingly always reload as the most successful year in and year out, as longtime coach Ingrid Herskind continues to navigate the small school power that has won 19 of the last 20 Prep League titles and routinely ventures to the state meet, flexing its might as a Division V power.
This season, Herskind's aiming for nothing less than the same high Rebels standard despite losing 12 seniors from last year's team.
"That's always tough on a team, but we've had an incredible summer putting the team back together," said Herskind, whose team won its second league crown in a row last season before going on to a third-place finish in the CIF Southern Section Division V final en route to a fourth-place mark at state. "They're just ready to go, ready to run."
Herskind said senior Aaron Sugimoto is likely to be the team's frontrunner, "but it alternates all the time."
She expects the rest of the top five to be filled out by senior Elias Ellison and juniors Alan Yoho, Tyler Fong and Danny Weitekamp. Herskind's also particularly happy with the team's work ethic thus far, including its affinity for cross-training, often using swimming and bicycling to add to the training.
"We're definitely stronger than we were last year," Herskind said. "We're really trying to do that to prevent injuries."
Prep begins the season ranked third in the Southern Section Division V rankings, behind No. 1 St. Margaret's and No. 2 Xavier Prep, while Prep League rivals Chadwick and Pasadena Poly sit at Nos. 4 and No. 8, respectively.
"Definitely, I think our biggest [league] competitor will be Chadwick. I think they're gonna be pretty good," Herskind said.
Of course, Prep always has its eyes on returning to state and Herskind is eyeing a return to a top-three state finish and a spot on the podium.
"We definitely want to get back up there," Herskind said.
La Cañada, on the other hand, is looking to build on its CIF Southern Section Division III prelim appearance and third-place finish in the Rio Hondo League under new coach Adam Hodges.
"We'd like to at least match that finish in league and advance to CIF," said Hodges, whose team will have to deal with South Pasadena, which is ranked seventh in Division III. "Anything beyond that will be icing on the cake."
The Spartans will look to seniors Brandon Newquest, who placed 10th in league last year, and Dillon Bromley to lead the group. Chris Skaggs will also provide some more senior leadership to La Cañada, which also figures to see sophomore Ethan Angold be a consistent top-five finisher this year.
"We've got about three guys that are going to be our solid first three runners, and I think there is going to be a lot of variability at the four through seven positions throughout the season, which I think is exciting because we can give a lot of different kids a chance to race in varsity competition," Hodges said. "Our main goal to get a solid set of varsity runners set in place by the time of league finals. We will be switching things around a lot at the beginning of the season."
With No. 1 runner Colin Peterson having departed and the team looking to rebound from a sixth-place finish in the Mission League, it's likely to be an uphill battle for St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan's Golden Knights.
Defending league champion Loyola, a perennial CIF contender, is ranked second in Division II, while Crespi is No. 3 in Division IV, followed by Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Harvard-Westlake in ninth and 10th, respectively, in Division IV. Thus, St. Francis has its work cut out for it after failing to make the postseason last year for the first time since in more than a decade.