WALNUT - Months of preparation were nearly offset by rain at Saturday morning’s CIF Southern Section Cross-Country Divisional Championships at Mt. San Antonio College.
With the prospect of having to compete on the faster rain course, runners from Crescenta Valley, Flintridge Prep, Flintridge Sacred Heart and La Cañada all responded in different ways to the challenge with team and individual championships up for grabs as well as the ultimate prize of advancing to the following week’s state final in Fresno.
No team better thrived under the watery conditions than did Flintridge Prep, as the Rebels earned under double advancement to Fresno in both boys’ and girls’ Division V championships.
Perhaps the most anticipated area race was the boys’ Division V championship, which featured top-ranked St. Margaret’s and the second-seeded Rebels.
Despite crossing their top five runners past the finish line ahead of anyone else, the Rebels settled for second place in falling, 46-61, to St. Margaret’s.
“We practiced all season to get ready for this course on this day,” said Rebels senior Aaron Sugimoto, who led Flintridge Prep by finishing sixth in 15 minutes, 4 seconds. “So, when we heard about the rain course, we knew it’d be faster, but different.”
Sugimoto paced a scoring squad that consisted of Elias Ellison (10th, 15:09), Alan Yoho (15th, 15:23), Jack Van Scoter (16th, 15:24) and Tyler Fong (26th, 15:41).
While the Rebels’ fifth runner, Fong, out-paced St. Margaret’s Spencer Wagener (30th, 15:50), ultimately the Tartans placed four runners in the top 11.
“We’ve ran a lot of fast courses this year like Dana Hills and Don Bosco Tech,” Yoho said. “The only thing that bothered us is that we might have went out too fast.”
As for the girls, who entered sixth-ranked, they overachieved in taking fifth with 144 points thanks to a close first-through-four pack of Kate Evans (23rd, 18:38), Lacy Coan (25th, 18:41), Ashley Lara (26th, 18:45) and Sarah Yoho (30th, 18:56).
“In the car coming over, I heard it was going to be the rain course and I just threw my hands up. I love the rain course,” Evans said. “The rain course is my friend. It’s a lot better on your body and mind and we love running it.”
Flintridge Prep’s fifth runner, senior Grace Broyles, took 59th in 19:55.
While the reactions were mixed from Flintridge Prep, there was no lack of excitement for the Rio Hondo League champion Spartans, who earned their first state advancement in what is believed to be 10 years, by taking the last qualifying spot in Division III in finishing seventh 217.
“We love this course and I just wanted to come out and give everything I had for my seniors. I love them,” said Spartans junior Anna Frederich, who led La Cañada by taking 10th in 17:17.
Trailing were scoring teammates Coleen Mispagel (25th, 17:41), Sonja Cwik (30th, 17:44), Hannah Yoho (84th, 19:04) and Elenor Marki (88th, 19:09).
“This is really wonderful, I’m so happy, I can’t believe it,” said a teary-eyed Cwik, the Rio Hondo League champion. “This is a dream, this is a dream senior season.”
La Cañada earned the final berth by edging Granite Hills by a point.
Even though Saturday was a tough day for Crescenta Valley, which failed to advance either its boys’ (11th, 252 points) or girls’ teams (12th, 297 points), there was a silver lining in the dark clouds.
Falcons junior Gabe Collison posted the fastest time among locals, clocking 14:18 in taking the final individual qualifying spot in Division I by placing ninth.
“We had expectations for the course and when it rained, that changed everything,” Collison said. “We did our best and I’m proud of the team.”
Falcons junior Erika Johnson paced the Crescenta Valley girls by taking 29th (17:09) in being Crescenta Valley’s lone top-50 runner.
“I just ran my best and thought I saw [teammate] Megan [Melnyk] ahead of me,” Johnson said. “When I saw it wasn’t her, I was surprised.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart capped its season by finishing 13th in the Division IV race with 286 points, while finishing with two top-50 runners in Gabby Fitzpatrick (43rd, 18:34) and Kayla Grahn (45th, 18:36).
“We definitely had to change our approach today because we trained for hills and there were no hills today,” Fitzpatrick said. “So, we just ran as fast as we could.”