When the 2011 cross-country season concluded for Flintridge Prep and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, they both found themselves in Fresno.
Their paths led them to their same desired destination and the two local squads are hopeful of another trek north to the CIF State Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park. But they will have to take vastly different paths to get there.
Prep has its one-two punch of Kate Evans and Sara Yoho back and is looking for big things, while Flintridge Sacred Heart, though it's experienced, lost its one-two of Stephanie Vargas and Paulina Antaplyan and realizes an uphill battle is ahead of it to get back to state.
La Cañada is looking to join the Rebels and Tologs at state this season after it took the Rio Hondo League title back from South Pasadena for its fifth league crown in six years under new coach Jenn Strople last year.
If anybody knows about strong league competition, it's Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama and his Flintridge Sacred Heart squad, which must overcome the losses of its top two runners, while dealing with the likes of Harvard-Westlake (No. 6 in Division IV), the reigning Mission League champion, and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, which is ranked fifth in Division IV.
"We have Notre Dame and Harvard in our league, so our goal is to just try and get to CIF and then to state," said Nishiyama, whose Tologs are ranked ninth in Division IV. "Our goal is always to go to state, but it's gonna be tough, we lost a lot."
The Tologs still return, a lot, as well. Junior Riley Gilmartin and senior Gabby Fitzpatrick are likely to be in the top five, with junior Maddie Peterson and senior Colleen Degnan, both splitting time with volleyball, also predicted to be big contributors along with sophomore Kayla Graham.
"I don't think we're gonna have a big No. 1," said Nishiyama, whose team took third in league last year on its way to finishing seventh at state. "We're gonna have to pack and we're gonna have to pack up top."
Up top, longtime Flintridge Prep Coach Mike Roffina couldn't be happier with the combination of juniors Evans and Yoho. Evans is currently edging out Yoho, but Roffina said they're always neck and neck.
"It's a great problem to have," Roffina said. "They're very competitive, but they like each other."
Roffina also likes the addition of sophomore Lacy Coan, a transfer from Washington state who ran in the state championships there last season.
"That's been a real boost for our group," said Roffina, whose team finished fourth in the tough Prep League last year, before fifth- and ninth-place finishes in the Southern Section and CIF State Division V finals.
Now, Prep enters the season ranked fourth in its division with Pasadena Poly a spot ahead and Chadwick at ninth, sure to make for another tight race for the Prep League's top spots.
"We have a smaller team than normal, but we've got a great group of kids," Roffina said. "We're expecting big things, we're very hopeful.
"We definitely have aspirations to do great things."
Strople is hoping her Spartans can follow up on the impressive season they put together in 2011 with a fourth-place finish at Southern Section Division III prelims before their season ended at the Division III finals in 13th place.
"We are hoping to build upon what we did last year," Strople said. "Absolutely, we are hopeful we can get to CIF prelims and finals this year. Ideally, we'd love to make it to state."
The Spartans, who are ranked ninth in Division III, are in a good position to do so after they graduated just one senior in 2011 in Meghan Fuelling.
Senior Sonja Cwik figures to lead La Cañada again this year after she took second at league finals in 2011. Seniors Anna Frederich and Hannah Yoho give the Spartans tons of leadership in their top-five runners, which is expected to include sophomore Coleen Mispagel.
Strople said even repeating as league champs will be a challenge, as South Pasadena is never far behind and an added hiccup came as the Rio Hondo League went from three to two league meets this season.
"South Pas has a great program and we know they are going to be our biggest competition," Strople said. "We know that's going to be a challenge to repeat. It will be a little bit different this year since they are only two meets. …Essentially, we just need to do well every meet."