First published in the Nov. 18 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The La Cañada High School girls’ cross-country team advanced to this Saturday’s CIF Southern Section finals with an impressive win in their preliminaries heat this past Friday, held on the hilly Mt. San Antonio College course in Walnut. The boys, hobbled when one of their top runners dropped out of the race, finished seventh in their heat and failed to advance.
The Spartan girls, one week removed from winning the Rio Hondo League championship, overcame record-breaking heat (the temperature reached 92 degrees) to score an impressive 1-2-3 finish in the second of three Division IV heats, totaling 31 points to second-place La Puente Bishop Amat’s 53. On a day when the soaring heat forced multiple athletes to be shuttled off the course on rolling stretchers, La Cañada recorded its best team effort of the season.
“It was great to see a dominant effort by the entire team,” said LC girls’ head coach Chris Matarese. “What’s amazing is that we would have won heat 2 even without Arielle [McKenzie] — and we know this because Arielle finished so far ahead of everyone in the race that the officials originally scored her in the prior heat [she passed runners from the previous heat on her way to the finish chute], and we still won by four points.”
McKenzie, a sophomore and the Rio Hondo League individual champion, won the heat by almost a minute. McKenzie stalked the early race leaders through the course’s flat first mile before surging the Switchbacks (Mt. SAC’s steep first climb) to gap the field. She extended her lead over the next two climbs — Poop Out and Reservoir Hill — to win the race in 18:35.
Sophomore Katelyn Matarese and freshman Maya DeBrouwer joined a four-runner chase pack behind McKenzie through Poop Out, but by Reservoir Hill’s final climb they’d left the other competitors in their wake. Matarese crossed the finish line second in 19:33, with DeBrouwer third in 19:36.
Catherine Mispagel, who has consistently run neck-and-neck with DeBrouwer this season, was unable to shake off the heat, crossing the line ninth in 20:25. With this Saturday’s temperatures predicted to be 20 degrees lower, Coach Matarese cited Mispagel’s expected return to form as key for La Cañada’s chances at winning the CIF title.
Senior captain Jenna Milbrodt led a La Cañada pack of three that included Caitlin Roehmholdt and sophomore Yasmine Ghaneh (running her first varsity race after winning the league JV individual title) across the line for a 16-17-18 finish.
The Spartan girls will face heat one and three winners San Juan Capistrano JSerra and Westlake Village Oaks Christian in one of the state’s most competitive CIF divisional finals (all three teams are ranked in the top four for the state), with the race slated for 8:45 a.m. this Saturday at Mt. SAC.
The La Cañada boys’ squad concluded an up-and-down season by placing seventh in their race with 161 points, 27 points behind their heat’s fifth-place and final qualifying team.
“The guys tried hard but fell short as a team,” said LCHS boys’ head coach Andy Rodemich. “I’m proud we made it to CIF, and the experience is a building block for next year’s team.”
Max Smith was the Spartans’ lone finals qualifier, advancing as an individual with an effort that saw him improve his position in the race by 10 places over the course’s final two climbs. While most athletes swooned in the heat following the tough Switchbacks climb, Smith picked up the pace, negative splitting the race’s second half to finish fourth overall in 16:28.
La Cañada’s mission to qualify for finals was made more difficult when Robert Lee, the Spartans’ second man for most of the race, succumbed to conditions on Reservoir Hill and dropped out. Ethan Lee led the remaining Spartans, running 17:45 for 35th place. Arya Ghaneh ran 17:51 for 39th, sophomore Jamie Saunders 18:13 for 46th, George Branda 18:48 for 55th, and Aditya Sehgal 19:54 for 66th.