James Knowles cleared all hurdles but one last season.
The St. Francis High track and field standout excelled throughout the season en route to winning Mission League championships in the 110- and 300-meter races. Those accomplishments took Knowles to the next level, as he advanced for the first time to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet at Cerritos College in Norwalk and was tabbed the All-Area Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
While most athletes would be satisfied with reaching the Masters Meet, Knowles came up a bit short in qualifying for the ultimate event — the CIF State Meet.
Knowles became the first Golden Knight to reach the Masters Meet since Andrew Steban accomplished the feat in the pole vault in 2006. Knowles clocked 38.71 seconds to finish eighth in the 300 and was an alternate in the 110.
St. Francis Coach Pat Donovan said Knowles, a senior, has been working tirelessly since the summer to improve his outlook on qualifying for state for the first time.
"There's that quiet drive to him that I haven't seen in other athletes I've had," Donovan said. "It's the strongest I've seen him coming into a season and he's continuing to develop because he wants to get to state.
"I like his chances to reach state. He's got the skill down for both races. We want to keep him healthy and make sure he's progressing. He's very self-motivated."
Also looking to excel for the Golden Knights are Kibbey Gosnell, Marshall Tush and Caleb Simmeth. Gosnell will pole vault, Tush will do sprints and relays and Simmeth will be a hurdler.
Donovan said the Golden Knights will look to win four meets in their ultra-competitive league that features traditional powerhouses Harvard-Westlake, Crespi and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
At Crescenta Valley, the Falcons figure to have several top sprinters and distance runners in the fold. Among those returning are James Maturan, who will be a sprinter and run in relays, distance athletes Mike Duncan, Aaron Esparza and Gabe Collison and hurdler Josh Straschewski.
Duncan won a Pacific League title in the 1,600 last season.
While the Falcons have excelled for decades in the racing events, Crescenta Valley Coach Mark Evans said he'd like the Falcons to be more balanced in the field events, which will be anchored by pole vaulter Tyler Bradshaw.
Evans said it will determine how the Falcons fare in their Pacific League meets.
"You have to be able to score points everywhere," Evans said. "You have to if you want to beat some of the [league] teams."
Glendale should have a more experienced team, led by sprinter Mike Davis. Davis captured Pacific League titles in the 100 and 200 and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division I finals in each race last season. Davis has won two league titles in a row in the 200.
Joining Davis will be distance runners Josh Carlos and Chris Canlas, sprinter Jeffrey Massin and jumpers Siraj Landery and Yves Ramirez.
It's a group that's got Glendale Coach Bob Bailey eager to begin the season.
"We have a good mix of veterans with varsity experience and new young talent," Bailey said. "Our sprinters are not just Mike.
"We have good depth behind him with Jeff and others. Plus, we return all of our hurdlers and key distance runners from last year."
Like Glendale, Flintridge Prep will have a large portion of key personnel returning. The Rebels should be strong in the long and middle distance events under Coach Nick Ponticello.
Flintridge Prep will have standout James Bradley competing in the 800 and relays, Elias Ellison in the long distance races and Tyler Shum handling sprints and jumps. West Nowotny and Daniel Jung will compete in the discus and shot put.
"Every year, we are trying build and get some more stability," Ponticello said. "We want to challenge to finish high in the Prep League.
"It's just a matter of filling in some of the areas."
Hoover's quartet of distance runners — Paul Ingram. Daniel Marin, Sasha Mikhailpoor and Jeremy Zadoorian — should have the Tornadoes in line to win a few races.
Hoover will also have a trio of sprinters in Brandon Kerr, Zach Hanson and Sang Ha.
"We will be a little bigger than last year, as we will have about 40 people," Hoover Coach Jack Sallakian said. "Our distance and sprinters should be good."