Kirsten Vose builds on phenomenal start with Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming

For the first time in two years, a La Cañada-area team didn’t find itself hoisting a CIF Southern Section championship at the end of the 2012-13 seasons. The year was instead highlighted by individual success.

It was in the pool where the most success occurred for locals with individuals from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Flintridge Prep bringing CIF-SS titles home from Riverside City College in the CIF Southern Section Division I swimming finals and Division III diving championships.

Those Tologs were the ones who enjoyed the finest run this past year, dominating the Mission League for consecutive outright titles and climbing up the CIF Southern Section Division I standings.

While there weren’t any CIF-SS titles won by teams, there were a host of Rio Hondo, Mission and Prep league championships in store for La Cañada High, Flintridge Prep and Flintridge Sacred Heart. Those led to playoff berths and impressive postseason runs — most notably the Spartans and Rebels girls’ basketball teams, La Cañada girls’ cross-country and volleyball squads.

Fueling those runs were individual athletes who reaped All-American, All-Area, All-CIF and all-league honors. A wide range of athletes — multi-sport, under and upperclassmen — shined brightest in the pool, on the field or in the gym.

Here is the list of La Cañada's top-10 female athletes in 2012-13.

1 Kirsten Vose, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming, sophomore — All the success that came for Vose in her debut season with the Tologs in 2012 was a surprise. She’s the first one to admit that.

Her championship season in 2013 was about expectations.

As a freshman, Flintridge Sacred Heart Coach Steve Bergen described Vose as a bit of a one-hit wonder. There was nothing wrong with that, as she went runner-up in the 100-yard breaststroke at the 2012 CIF Southern Section Division I finals with a personal-best mark of one minute, 3.53 seconds.

“Not at all, that was such a surprise to me,” Vose said when asked if she thought she’d be so successful as a freshman.

Word was certainly out on Vose this season after her debut CIF-SS performance.

It certainly didn’t slow Vose down in the regular season, as her four other strokes matured and she developed into a complete swimmer as a sophomore, Bergen said.

The near 6-foot-tall talent didn’t lose a race leading into the postseason in 2013 after winning all four of her events at Mission League Finals for the second year in a row and leading the Tologs to consecutive sole league championships.

Pressure created by her immediate success didn’t prove a factor this year until after CIF-SS prelims, where she locked up the top seed in the breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

It wasn’t until the final day of the season when Vose’s expectations to win hit her. It led to a hiccup and sixth-place finish in the individual medley, but she rebounded in a big way. She won the breaststroke in nailbiting fashion in 1:02.57. She also teamed with Kate Herrill, Katie Altmayer and Emily Balog for a dramatic, underdog victory in the 200-medley relay (1:44.26) to start the day.

“I knew it was going to be really hard to do, but I thought I had a pretty good chance [to win the breaststroke] if I was right on it,” Vose said of her preseason goal. “If I really raced hard, I had a possibility to win. That was definitely my goal for the whole year.”

Now the question is how Vose will continue to improve as a junior and senior after reaping the All-Area Girls’ Swimmer of the Year and La Cañada Valley Sun Female Athlete of the Year awards.

First thing is keeping the Tologs on top of the Mission League and moving up in Division I. In the past two years, they have climbed 27 spots in CIF and placed seventh this past year.

Personally, Vose has plenty left she wants to accomplish. She wants to match her success at CIF-SS Division I championships and has her eyes on setting a few school records in the process. One elusive one is the breaststroke record held by arguably Flintridge Sacred Heart’s greatest swimmer, Andrea Kropp.

“She set really good school records, so Kate [Herrill] and I are both just trying to see if we can eventually break one or two or however many possible,” Vose said. “Also, just her success as a swimmer overall. If we could get to that point then it gets us in a better mind-set that we could be just as good as her.”

2 Maddi Witt, Flintridge Prep swimming, sophomore – The diving phenom picked up the biggest victory of her prep career when she upset three-time defending CIF Southern Section champion Anika Lenz of Pasadena Poly at the Division III Swim and Dive Finals at Riverside Community College on May 7.

Witt outlasted the UCLA-bound Lenz (486.75) by scoring 538 points in capturing the title. The victory snapped a five-match losing streak to Lenz and also helped Witt later garner All-American honors.

Previous to the Division III championship, Witt finished runner-up to Lenz at the Prep League finals at Pasadena Poly on April 27.

“I wasn’t expecting to win; I was just hoping to get top three, that was my goal,” Witt said at Riverside. “Winning was just the cherry on top for me.”

3 Kayla Mills, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer and track, senior — The USC-bound fullback anchored a Tologs defense that only allowed 17 goals in 21 contests, while finishing runner-up in the Mission League and falling in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.

Flintridge Sacred Heart (15-2-4) also posted nine shutouts and Mills was rewarded for such success by being named an Elite Soccer Report All-American second-team pick, the Mission League Most Valuable Player and an All-Area first-team selection.

Mills also tallied four goals and two assists.

“I’m blessed and I’m thankful when I get these things,” Mills said of being named the Mission League MVP. “It took me by surprise.”

4 Sonja Cwik, La Cañada High cross country and track, senior — Success was not in limited supply in Cwik’s final run with the Spartans.

The All-Area Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year picked up her first-ever Rio Hondo League title in cross-country and added another in track and field in her senior seasons.

At the cross-country league finals, she overcame being taken off course for her first-ever league crown over longtime rival Helena Van Loan of South Pasadena, the defending league champion, with a time of 18 minutes, 18 seconds.

“Helena is such a great runner, but this was my senior year and I had to win,” Cwik said after the season. “There was no tomorrow for me, just today and that race.”

It was a similar story at the track and field league championships, with Cwik donning her first crown in two years with a victory in the 3,200-meter run in 11:26.84 over Van Loan, who suffered an injury in the race. The Spartans front runner also took second in the 1,600 (5:18.25) behind Van Loan.

While Cwik was a two-way threat, she enjoyed her finest run with La Cañada’s balanced cross-country squad, which romped its way to consecutive league titles and enjoyed an improbable run all the way to the CIF State Meet.

At the CIF Southern Section Division III prelims, Cwik was runner-up (18:25) to lead the Spartans to third place and one of five teams to advance to the Division III finals.

La Cañada became the first group to reach the CIF State Meet since the 1990s when it locked up the seventh and final berth to the elite competition by just one point in Division III. Cwik was the team’s third finisher by taking 30th (17:44), behind dependable teammates Anna Frederich (10th, 17:17) and Coleen Mispagel (25th, 17:41).

“When they made the announcement that we qualified, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true,” Cwik said after the season. “Since the Mt. SAC invite, we had talked about coming back to Mt. SAC for prelims and finals and getting to state, but it was also kind of a dream.”

The Spartans, who also took second at the Central Park Invitational Division II race and 13th at Woodbridge Invitational races, fell 10 points shy of a top-10 finish in state. They took 11th overall with the aid of Cwik’s 15th-place individual run in 18:45.

5 Courtney Chen, La Cañada High basketball, junior — There seemed to be nothing Chen couldn’t do, whether the Spartans needed a big bucket, assist, steal or even a rebound.

Chen’s season averages of 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 3.3 assists a game were clear evidence of her do-everything nature. As a result, the junior netted the distinction of being the All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year and received first-team nods in CIF Southern Section Division III-A and the Rio Hondo League.

With Chen running the offense and anchoring the defense, the Spartans enjoyed tremendous success. They picked up a league championship and locked up the third seed in Division III-A that helped direct them to the semifinals before they finished with a 20-9, 9-1 in league record.

Chen and La Cañada’s brilliant season came to an end Feb. 23 when it fell to St. Joseph, 50-40, in the final four game. Chen attempted to fuel a late rally for her team and scored 16 points and added three rebounds and three assists in the defeat.

The speedy guard and half-court thief always seemed to be reliable in the big moments. She averaged 18.3 points, three assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.7 rebounds through three playoff games and posted a stat line of 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals in La Cañada’s league-clinching win over South Pasadena, 43-34.

Without that win over the rival Tigers, the Spartans would have faced a tougher playoff road as the likely fifth seed.

“It was really important for us to be able to win a league title,” Chen said in March.

6 Olivia Leyva, La Cañada High soccer and softball, junior — Perhaps the most well-rounded female multi-sport local athlete, Leyva was a dominant force on both the diamond and the pitch for La Cañada.

Longtime La Cañada soccer Coach Louie Bilowitz didn’t hesitate to label Leyva the best athlete on his soccer field this year. The center defender helped the Spartans smother their Rio Hondo League competition, as they allowed seven goals in 10 league games with a first-year goalkeeper in net.

La Cañada finished third in league and advanced to a CIF Southern Section Division V wild card game before ending the year at 11-5, 5-3-2 in league.

In softball, the junior followed Spartan greats Anna Edwards and Catherine Horner as the team’s leadoff hitter. She filled those big shoes well. Her .405 (30 for 74) batting average, .824 slugging percentage, 30 runs driven in and 28 runs scored, seven doubles, six homers and three triples were all team-highs.

“I’ve been working really hard to improve my game,” Leyva said after the softball campaign. “I just wanted to make sure I was ready to step up and fulfill my duties.”

Despite La Cañada missing out on the postseason with a 13-14, 7-5 in league record, Leyva was honored with an All-CIF Southern Section Division III first-team award.

7 Sarah Teegarden, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer, senior — The midfielder earned one the higher accolades of the season when she was named Mission League Defensive MVP after leading the Tologs (15-2-4) to second place within league.

Flintridge Sacred Heart’s defense posted nine shutouts, but was eliminated for a second straight year in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.

The Wake Forest-bound Teegarden finished with four goals and two assists and was an All-Area first-teamer and a CIF Southern Section Division I second-teamer.

“I felt really accomplished getting this award,” she said of the league defensive MVP, “and it was a great way to end it.”

8 Kate Herrill, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming, freshman — Herrill teamed with Kirsten Vose, Katie Altmayer and Emily Balog to win the 200-yard medley in 1:44.26 at the CIF Southern Section Division I championships at Riverside Community College on May 11.

The quartet also took fourth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:36.12.

Individually, Herrill also finished fourth in the Division I 50-yard freestyle in 23.66 and fifth in the 100-yard backstroke (1:03.81).

Earlier at the Mission League finals at Los Angeles Valley College on April 30, Herrill joined Balog, Altmayer and Vose to set a school and league meet record with an All-American mark of 36.95 in the 200-yard freestyle.

That day, Herrill broke a record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 23.70, while the Tologs won a team title earlier in the year.

“I was just really ready to go and when I turned I saw I was a little ahead and I just needed to finish it,” said Herrill after helping her team with the 200-yard medley. “I had a great start and my underwaters got me up next to her, so it was just down to the race then.”

9 Kendall Walbrecht, La Cañada High volleyball, senior — Injuries plagued La Cañada for most of the 2012 season. Early on when it was without the services of respective outside and middle hitters Micaela Anderson and Katie Pierce, Walbrecht shouldered the load on offense and picked up her defense to lead what was a very young group.

Walbrecht went on to share All-Rio Hondo League Most Valuable Player honors with Anderson, but was the only Spartan to be named to the top CIF Southern Section Division II-AA team. It was the first such award in her illustrious career.

“I feel honored, it feels great,” said Walbrecht, who logged 332 kills, 165 digs, 33 aces and 27 blocks on the year, while also missing some matches of her own, after hearing about the award. “It’s been a goal for me, so I’m real happy.

“Again, it’s a huge honor, and I feel so blessed that I was able to play volleyball this long and be successful.”

Everyone got healthy at the right time for the Spartans, who embarked on a surprising playoff run to the semifinals. Walbrecht, who’ll play at UC Davis next year, was there to help lead the way. She averaged a double-double (16.5 kills and 10.8 digs) in four playoff matches.

10 Micaela Anderson, La Cañada High volleyball, senior — One can only wonder what kind of stats the Rutgers-bound hitter might have accumulated with an injury-free season.

That’s not to say Anderson wasn’t impressive on the court, alongside longtime teammate Kendall Walbrecht.

Both senior leaders and sluggers were named All-Rio Hondo League co-Most Valuable Players and were pillars for a team that finished 19-12, 10-0 in league and advanced all the way to the CIF Southern Section Division II-AA semifinals.

Anderson put up 385 kills, 153 digs, 44 aces and 27 blocks in the Spartans’ surprisingly successful season, considering all it faced in a season highlighted by injuries and a young group.

“I went out there trying to just do my best and the coaches from around our league recognized me,” Anderson said after being named the league’s co-MVP. “It’s a great feeling to share it with Kendall because she’s one of the best players I’ve been around.”

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