Perhaps no race means as much and simultaneously as little as will this Friday’s and Saturday’s 66th annual Mt. San Antonio Cross-Country Invitational in Walnut.
The two-day event has over 300 high schools present with locals Crescenta Valley, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Flintridge Prep, Glendale, Hoover and St. Francis highs all participating.
No one made a bigger local splash last year than did the Flintridge Prep boys, who upset CIF Southern Section Division V top-ranked St. Margaret’s and won the meet with 68 points, which marked the first time the Rebels captured a Mt. SAC title in program history, according to coach Ingrid Herskind.
“It was a little bit of a surprise last year, but my guys are humble and I don’t worry about that going to their heads,” Herskind said. “Winning is always a great thing, but we’re trying to stay grounded and remember that this is only one step toward our ultimate goal, which is to win a CIF State title.”
The Rebels won’t be upsetting anyone in the Southern Section should they win Friday’s Division V Sweepstakes at 5:28 p.m., as they enter top-ranked.
However, Herskind isn’t denying there’s at least some added focus as the Rebels are set to square off with state Division V top-ranked (according to dyestatcal.com) St. Joseph Notre Dame, which has nipped second-ranked Flintridge Prep by a point at the last two state meets, including an 86-87 win in last year’s state Division V championship.
“We haven’t had a chance to race against them and we’re anxious to see what they have,” Herskind said. “We know they returned most of their team, so they should be fierce.”
Expectations are equally high for the top-ranked Rebels girls, who are similarly top-ranked in their section and No. 2 in state.
Flintridge Prep runs in Friday’s Division V Sweepstakes at 5:13 p.m. in a loaded field that includes state top-ranked Branson of Northern California.
“We’re ready to go and we’re taking this really seriously, especially with Branson there,” Rebels Coach Mike Roffina said. “But I don’t want to get too far ahead. Our No. 1 goal is to win a Prep League championship, which we’ll be running in next Saturday. Everything leading up to that, including Mt. SAC, is just preparation.”
Both Flintridge Prep squads will likely by led by a Yoho, with Sarah pacing the girls and Alan guiding the boys.
Roffina mentioned some extra motivation for Sarah Yoho and the Rebels as they face two-time defending Division V state champion Julia Maxwell of Branson.
As for current Mission League runner-up Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, the Tologs will take part in the area’s first big race, Friday’s Division IV girls’ Sweepstakes at 4:47 p.m.
Flintridge Sacred Heart recently cracked the CIF-SS Division IV rankings at No. 10 and has an opportunity to move up against a field that includes No. 1 Laguna Beach, No. 2 JSerra, No. 3 Harvard-Westlake and No. 4 Xavier Prep.
“This is a good stepping stone for us to see how we stack up against some of the best teams in our division and in state,” Tologs Coach Kirk Nishiyama said. “We’ll know where we stand after Friday.”
Unlike nearly every other area squad, the Tologs don’t have a No. 1 runner, although it’s expected that either Kayla Grahn or Maddie Peterson will lead the way.
As for Friday’s other competitions, the Hoover and St. Francis boys will participate in a Division III race at 12:37 p.m., while the Hoover girls are entered in the Division III sweepstakes at 5:31 p.m.
On Saturday, the Crescenta Valley boys will participate in the area’s lone sweepstakes and perhaps the invitational's most prestigious event, the Division I and II Sweepstakes at 10:58 a.m.
While proud to have been invited, Falcons Coach Mark Evans has mixed feelings.
“It’s an honor to be in that race and we’re looking forward to it,” Evans said. “But let’s not go overboard. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen teams do great at Mt. SAC or win Mt. SAC and then falter later on. We want to do well, but we’re focused on league and CIF.”
The sixth-ranked Falcons are one of the showcase squads in a race with Pacific League archrival and divisional top-ranked Arcadia, which gives Falcons senior Gabe Collison another chance at Arcadia’s Estevan De La Rosa.
“Gabe understands the game plan and that this is a team effort,” Evans said. “He’s going to do what’s best for his team.”
The Crescenta Valley girls will participate in a Division I race at 9:03 a.m., while the Glendale boys compete in Division I action at 8:26 a.m. and the Nitros girls go at 9:03 a.m.