Titles, Olympics, redemption highlight 2013 La Cañada sports year

Redemption, rebirth and renewal were some of the storylines that dominated a successful sports year for the teams and students-athletes from La Cañada Flintridge in 2013.

Among some of the accolades earned were Olympic berths, CIF Southern Section championships and several bounce-back seasons from the city’s programs.

Here are the La Cañada Valley Sun’s top 10 sports stories of 2013.

1. La Cañada High alumna Kate Hansen reaches Olympics. Having fallen short on a trip to the winter games in 2010, the 21-year-old Hansen was not denied this time.Hansen needed two world top-nine finishes through the first five Viessman Luge World Cup competitions this fall and winter and didn’t waste any time. After finishing out of the top 10 in the first two world cups, Hansen snatched seventh at the third event in Winterbery, Germany on Dec. 1 in a time of 1 minute, 54.605 seconds.

The following weekend, Hansen sealed the deal, taking sixth (1:31.851) at the fourth World Cup in Whistler, Canada on Dec. 7.

Yet, Hansen’s best race was still ahead of her, as she posted her highest-ever finish in taking fourth (1:27.929) at the fifth World Cup in Park City, Utah on Dec. 17.

“It was difficult not making it last year and it’s something I’ve thought about for the last four years,” Hansen said. “Once I was selected, it was just validation for all the hard work. I didn’t have to say anymore that I just missed because I made it.”

The very next day, Hansen was officially selected as one of three individual qualifiers out of a 10-person luge contingent to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Hansen is believed the be only the second-ever La Cañada High alumnus to represent her school at the Olympics after Peter Wells advance to the 2004 Sydney Games in sailing.

2. St. Francis High football enjoys a dramatic turnaround. Coming off one of its most trying seasons, St. Francis High football produced one of its most successful in 2013: starting the year on an eight-game winning streak, taking third in the Mission League and finishing at 10-3, 3-2 in league.

The Golden Knights advanced to the CIF Southern Section semifinals for the first time in eight years and stacked up well against some of the best competition in the state, with all three of their losses coming against CIF Southern Section Western Division finalists Chaminade and Serra in league and the postseason.

After posting playoff wins over Culver City (45-28) and Camarillo (42-21), St. Francis saw its banner year end in a hard-fought loss to Serra (22-14).

Veteran St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, who won his 100th game during the season, was confident his team would produce a better record than its 4-7, 1-4 in league mark from 2012 – as the Knights dropped four games by a touchdown or less. Still, it would have been hard to predict St. Francis' success, but it came on the backs of senior quarterback Ty Gangi and two-way starter Joe Mudie at running back and defensive back.

While Gangi carried some hype into his final high school season, he was better than could have been expected. He threw for 2,882 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions on 189-of-342 passing for a 100 quarterback rating. He ran for 12 more touchdowns and 421 yards on 117 carries, and also caught a touchdown. Mudie produced 1,962 total yards from scrimmage (1,350 rushing, 612 rushing) and 19 touchdowns (14 rushing, four receiving, one kickoff return).

While Gangi and Mudie consistently grabbed headlines, receiver Dylan Crawford and tight end John Carroll put up impressive numbers in the passing game. The Golden Knights paved their way to success with balance and a deep cast, including a sturdy offensive line and strong defense that held opponents to 21.7 points a game.

3. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming turns in another banner season. In 2012, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy swimming took back the Mission League. A year later, the Tologs cemented their place in the competitive league and enjoyed their best finish in CIF Southern Section Division I since being bumped up from Division II in 2009.

Sacred Heart relied on a deep roster for success a year ago, but became the front runner for most of the season in 2013, with underclass talents Kirsten Vose and Kate Herrill leading the way. The Tologs took seventh in Division I after not cracking the top 14 the previous four years.

Vose reaped the highest honors of the group, with a dramatic victory in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:02.57 for a victory by .28 of a second. She also took sixth in the 200 individual medley (2:05.63) and was also a key part of the Tologs’ championship 200-medley relay team.

Sacred Heart did not start the first race of the day well and was in eighth place after the first 50 yards, but made up ground down the stretch – most notably Herrill's 22.82 sprint down the final 50 – for a victory in 1:44.26.

After the medley relay, Emily Balog and Katie Altmayer joined Vose and Herrill for another fourth-place finish in the 200-freestyle relay (1:36.12) later on, while Herrill improved on eighth seeds in the 50 free (23.66) and the 100 breast (1:03.81).

All the success was paved in the league finals, where the Tologs won six of 11 events and set five school and three meet records. Vose, the eventual All-Area Girls' Swimmer and Valley Sun Female Athlete of the Year, won four league titles and had a hand in all three meet records.

4. Flintridge Prep cross-country doubles its pleasure and success. As the postseason wore on, it became a question of what two already storied Flintridge Prep cross-country programs could accomplish next. As was expected, the Rebels dominated the Prep League and stretched their run all the way to the national stage.

It started in familiar territory for the Rebels, as both the boys' and girls' squads produced individual and team Prep League champions. Individually, the brother-sister duo of Alan and Sarah Yoho turned in championship runs in 15 minutes, 18 seconds (tied for all-time league best) and 18:52, respectively. Sarah Yoho’s run was particularly noteworthy as she upset two-time defending league individual champion Evan Gancedo (19:06) of Pasadena Poly.

Prep swept the top-four spots — Jack Van Scoter (second, 15:46), Tyler Fong (third, 16:30) and Nikhil Poole (fourth, 16:38) — for its 21st league title over the past 22 years on the boys’ side. On the other side, the Rebel girls won their first league title since 2006 with a 26-40 win over two-time reigning champion Mayfield.

It was more of the same at the CIF Southern Section Division V Finals, as Flintridge Prep became the first school to sweep both titles in two years and the first to do so in the division in six years.

Alan Yoho became the first-ever individual Southern Section champion in the boys' program’s history with a time of 15:10, with Van Scoter taking runner-up again in 15:19. Even without the services of Sarah Yoho, the Rebels girls won a Southern Section crown after taking four of the top-10 spots, with Natalie O'Brien (fourth, 19:04), Ashley Lara (fifth, 19:11), Maia Cohen (ninth, 19:28) and Lacy Coan (10th, 19:29) filling those spots.

While Prep's boys' squad fell short of its third championship with a fourth-place finish at the CIF Division V State meet, Alan Yoho became the Rebels' first individual state champion, winning in 15:11 at Fresno's Woodward Park. Van Scoter continued to run strong, too, with a third-place time of 15:41. The Rebel girls took third in consecutive seasons, led by Coan at 18th (19:40).

Alan Yoho's magical runs continued, as he shed his 88th ranking at Nike Nationals and placed ninth in 15:14 at Portland Meadows Course in Portland, Ore.

5. La Cañada High soccer sensation Armand Bagramyan proved difficult to contain. On the field, perhaps no individual player made more of an impact than did Bagramyan, who turned in a stellar offensive 2012-13 season.

According to maxpreps.com, Bagramyan netted the second-most goals in California last season in tallying 43 scores and 21 assists through 23 matches.

Bagramyan totaled at least a point in each match of the season while turning hat tricks in five matches and scoring four goals in three occasions.

Bagramyan’s scoring prowess was enough to break La Cañada’s previous single season record of 41 goals set by Josh Henderson in 1996.

On the awards front, Bagramyan was named the All-Area Player of the Year, the All-Rio Hondo League Offensive Player of the Year, a CIF Southern Section Division V first-team selection and an Elite Soccer Report Winter All-American pick.

Bagramyan, who is currently at UC Santa Barbara, led the Spartans to an 18-4-2 record, which translated into a runner-up spot in league and a CIF-SS Division V first-round playoff exit.

6. Flintridge Sacred Heart volleyball revamps and makes a deep postseason run. Year No. 2 under the leadership of coach Ernest Banaag proved a tremendous success for the Tologs.

Perhaps the team’s biggest accomplishment took place on one single night.

The Tologs defeated visiting Harvard-Westlake, 3-1, on Oct. 24 at home in knocking off the league heavyweight and defending Mission League champion for the first time in 15 matches, which spanned seven years.

The victory erased a devastating 3-0 loss at Harvard-Westlake on Oct. 8 and eventually allowed Flintridge Sacred Heart to clinch the program’s first co-league title since 2006.

Seeded fourth in the playoffs, Flintridge Sacred Heart did not disappoint, defeating Ayala (3-1) and Thousand Oaks (3-0) in the first two rounds before bouncing 2012 divisional finalist El Dorado in the quarterfinals, 3-2.

In the semifinals, the Tologs ran into Southern Section power La Salle and fell to the top seed, 3-1, as Flintridge Sacred Heart was the only team to take a game from the Lancers in the divisional postseason.

Flintridge Sacred Heart finished with a 26-5 record in reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2007.

7. La Cañada High baseball bounces back in big way. A year after finishing dead last within the Rio Hondo League, the Spartans’ baseball program not only mattered, but thrived in 2013.

Under the direction of new coach Alex Valadez, the Spartans finished with an 14-8 record and 8-4 mark in league to capture the program’s first league championship since 2005. The 14 wins were also the most for the program since 2009.

Only a year earlier, the Spartans were 10-14 and 2-10.

Beyond the stats, though, La Cañada won some big games, including bumping off area rival Crescenta Valley, 6-3, in the Feb. 23 season opener, while notching league wins versus Monrovia, Temple City and San Marino.

In defeating California, 4-2, on May 16 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs, La Cañada also won its first postseason game since 2009 and advanced for the first time to the second round since 2005.

The Spartans run eventually ended, 8-5, at Sonora in the second round on May 21.

8. Flintridge Prep baseball has a historic year with new coach. It appeared as though Flintridge Prep would be involved in a transitional season in 2013.

That was hardly the case. Under new coach Guillermo Gonzalez, the Rebels accomplished plenty in surprising fashion.

Flintridge Prep shared the Prep League championship with Pasadena Poly and Webb for the first time since 1997.

As if that wasn’t enough, Flintridge Prep (18-9, 9-3 in league) made plenty of noise in the CIF Southern Section Division VI postseason. Flintridge Prep posted a 14-6 opening-round home win against Santa Paula to clinch its first playoff victory since 1999.

While that would have been plenty of cause to celebrate, the Rebels didn’t stop there.

Flintridge Prep made the long journey to Kern Valley for a second-round game and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to post a 6-3 win. In a quarterfinal game against visiting Crean Lutheran, Flintridge Prep, trailed, 3-0, going into the bottom of the seventh. Flintridge Prep scored four runs in the inning to earn an improbable 4-3 victory and advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1960.

The Rebels’ season came to a close with a 12-4 home defeat against top-seeded Desert Christian Academy.

9. La Cañada High cross-country senior Anna Frederich runs deep into the postseason. Perhaps no girls’ area runner consistently found herself in the top 10 more in 2013 than did the feisty Frederich.

During the regular season, the senior finished second at the 1.9-mile Fastback Shootout in 11 minutes, 59.71 seconds, while also taking third at the Don Bosco Tech Invite (18:31.9) and fourth individually at Woodbridge (17:18).

Perhaps Frederich and her teammates’ best race of the season came during the 40th annual Bellarmine-Jefferson Invite, where the Spartans took first in the varsity white race with 53 points in outlasting Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (76) and Chaminade (77).

In that race, Frederich won the individual crown in romping to victory with a mark of 18:31, well ahead of ahead of runner-up Savannah Berry (18:57) of Bakersfield Highland.

Frederich also backed up her win at the first Rio Hondo League meet at Santa Fe Dam in 18:06.84 on Sept. 25 by capturing her second-ever Rio Hondo League individual championship and first since her freshman year at the league finals at Lacy Park with a victory in 18:18.84 on Nov. 7.

Frederich’s postseason success was just beginning, though, as she finished fourth in her Division III heat of the CIF Southern Section prelims and followed that up by finishing under 18 minutes at Mt. San Antonio College for the first time in her career by taking third (17:57) at the CIF-SS Division III championships on Nov. 23.

Frederich eventually capped her season by taking seventh at the CIF State Meet in Fresno on Nov. 30 in an area-best time of 18:17.

10. James Sims leads La Cañada High football to the postseason, but is told he will not return in 2014. Once again, La Cañada High is searching for a new coach after the contract of two-year coach James Sims was not renewed earlier this month.

The administrative decision to not bring Sims back came as a surprise to some after the Floridian led the Spartans to a 5-6 season in 2013, which improved upon a 2-8 record in Sims’ first season.

Progress wasn’t just measured in victories as La Cañada qualified to the postseason for the first time since 2010, while the Spartans’ third-place finish within the Rio Hondo League was also the highest for the program since that year.

The Spartans were eliminated in the first round of the Mid-Valley Division playoffs, 54-3, at Paraclete, which itself advanced to the divisional title game.

While the Spartans did finish with six losses, each setback came to either a league champion or runner-up, while those teams combined for a 59-15 record.

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