LA CAÑADA — While the city of La Cañada only includes three girls’ programs, an argument could be made that the hotbed of area girls’ cross-country activity was none other than the Foothill (210) Freeway hamlet.
La Cañada High, Flintridge Prep and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy all advanced deep into the postseason with perhaps the Spartans having the most successful of seasons.
La Cañada not only captured its second straight Rio Hondo League title, but the Spartans also boasted the league’s individual champion in senior Sonja Cwik, who dethroned then-reigning All-Area Runner of the Year Helena Van Loan of South Pasadena High.
Yet, that was only the start, as La Cañada advanced to and past the CIF Southern Section Division III prelims before grabbing seventh place at the divisional finals.
The Spartans finished with 217 points, just ahead of Granite Hills (218) in claiming the division’s final qualifying spot to the CIF State Meet, which marked the program’s first advancement to the state finals in Fresno for the first time in at least a decade.
La Cañada capped its magical season by taking 11th at state.
“I can’t lie. Last year was an absolutely amazing season, one of the best in years, since at least I was in high school,” said Spartans Coach Jenn Strople, the All-Area Coach of the Year. “I know it’s going to be difficult to get back to state and enjoy the same success last year, but this is a team that can do that.”
If there’s an area of concern for the Spartans, it has to do with the graduation Cwik.
“You can’t replace a runner like Sonja,” Strople said, “but I think [Anna] Frederich can be an excellent leader this year.”
The senior finished fourth (18 minutes 41 seconds) at league finals, before earning 10th (17:17) at divisional finals and 18th (18:49) at state.
Besides Frederich, the Spartans also return a talent in junior Colleen Mispagel, the Rio Hondo League runner-up (18:31), and senior Eloise Dimase-Nordlin (13th in league in 20:17), who form a solid one-through-three front for the Spartans.
“We have a few girls that we’re looking to fill our four through seven for us,” Strople said. “It’s too early to say who that will be, but we have options.”
La Cañada, which is ranked eighth in Division III to begin the season, starts its quest at Saturday’s Don Bosco Tech Invite at Santa Fe Dam.
Maybe the biggest change this offseason took place at Flintridge Prep, where 16th-year coach Mike Roffina is enjoying a renaissance of sorts at a school that’s already enjoyed its fair share of cross-country success.
While Roffina returns six of his top seven from a squad that finished 12th in the Division V CIF State Meet, fifth at the CIF Southern Section Division V championships and runner-up in the Prep League finals to Mayfield Senior, the Rebels had an extra big bonus in the form of 18 freshmen who joined the program this offseason.
“We’ve got 35 girls in the program. It’s amazing, I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years coaching,” Roffina. “We’re a small school, a school that has 50 or 60 total freshman girls. We’re in Division V, but that’s something a Division I school gets. And honestly, I don’t know where that is coming from.”
Those numbers come along with high expectations as the Rebels are ranked No. 1 in all of Southern California and No. 5 by dyestatcal.com in Division V, while the CIF Southern Section ranking placed the Rebels at No. 2 in the section behind Woodcrest Christian.
Back for the Rebels in 2013 is junior Lacy Coan, the squad’s highest finisher at the Prep League finals at Pierce College on Oct. 27. Coan took ninth last season in 19:35.
By comparison, Mayfield placed its scoring five ahead of Coan in romping to a victory over the Rebels, 30-72.
Yet, this year will certainly be different as the Division IV sixth–ranked Cubs graduated their top four runners.
“I don’t want to say we’ll win league, because we respect Mayfield,” Roffina said, “but I will say we’re excited about league.”
Following Coan this season are seniors Sarah Yoho (12th at league finals, 20:16), Kate Evans (15th, 20:27) and Cassidy Redding and junior Ashley Lara (16th, 20:33).
Twenty years of experience have not tempered the expectations of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Coach Kirk Nishiyama, but rather have given him clarity in regards to his team’s expectations within the highly-competitive Mission League and beyond.
“This is a great league with some amazing talent. We’d love to win the Mission League, but we know how difficult a league it is,” Nishiyama said. “Our goal this year is the same as always, which is to reach state.”
Last season, the Tologs finished third behind powerhouses Harvard-Westlake and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, who are expected to once again be formidable. Perhaps as further testament to the league’s strength, Flintridge Sacred Heart breezed passed the CIF Southern Section Division IV prelims and eventually took 13th at the divisional finals.
The good news for Flintridge Sacred Heart is that two of its top three runners from league finals are back, led by senior Maddie Peterson, who finished runner-up on the squad to the graduated Gabby Fitzpatrick (ninth, 19:26) by taking 10th last season (19:33) at league finals.
“Maddie is our All-Mission League runner from last year and she’s definitely a leader,” Nishiyama said. “I think she can move up the top 10 this year.”
Peterson is expected to pace a pack that includes junior Kayla Grahn (14th in league in 20:19) and senior Riley Gilmartin, while the team welcomes back senior Daisy Beckmer from injury and slew of runners hoping to prove their mettle in junior Katherine Laco, sophomores Kristina Mercolino and Clare Lund and freshmen Katie Gulick and Monica Collins.