LCHS Girls Win 1st League Title Since 1993

Photo courtesy Pete Magill
The La Cañada High School girls’ varsity track and field team captured its first Rio Hondo League championship in 28 years by edging South Pasadena last Tuesday. Pictured above are (seated, from left) Stella Shrinsky, Mindy Martinez, Caitlin Roehmholdt, Joanna Gropper, Sundara Wakeman, Nicole van Slooten, Jayli Day, Annalise Evans, Jordan Lay, Leslie Dick, Arielle McKenzie and Katelyn Hung. Standing: assistant coach Greg Creighton, Brooke Gilchrest, Audrey Butler, Claudia Plocher, Grace Paton, Catherine Mispagel, Jenna Milbrodt, Ellaney Matarese, Katelyn Matarese, girls’ head coach Chris Matarese, Artis Phillips, Chiara Matuska, Amy Kiang, Yasmin Ghaneh, Sarvin Youssefizad, Ellie Cucullu, Kaitlyn Creighton, Lainey Johansing, Arianna Kim, Amanda Grabal and assistant coach Andy Rodemich.

Three decades after legendary La Cañada High School coach Pat Logan last delivered a Rio Hondo League track and field championship — a feat he accomplished with the regularity of spring turning to summer — the 2021 Spartan girls’ team capped an undefeated season last Tuesday with a thrilling, down-to-the-wire 65-61 victory over visiting South Pasadena. 

The win earned the Spartans (7-0 record) their first league title in 28 years and, simultaneously, ended a decade of Tigers’ domination. South Pas had won the girls’ league title each year from 2010-19. (There was no league champion crowned in 2020 due to the pandemic.)

The LCHS girls’ most recent team title had been in 1993 under Coach Bob Gleason; the Spartans finished in a three-way tie with San Marino and South Pasadena that year, all with 4-1 dual meet league records. The last time La Cañada captured sole possession of the league crown was 1989, and the last Spartan team to finish the season undefeated was Coach Logan’s 1988 team, which was 8-0 overall and placed fourth in the CIF 2-A Division Championships.

Meanwhile, the LCHS boys were defeated by South Pasadena, 82-44, last Tuesday. 

The highly anticipated girls’ meet matched perennial league champion South Pasadena against the surging Spartans. Living up to the hype, the meet came down to the final event, the 4×400 relay, with the Tigers leading 61-60. The Tigers led off with their top 400-meter runner, who grabbed the early lead from senior Spartan captain Artis Phillips. From there, the baton passed to the Spartans’ version of the “big three.” Freshman Arielle McKenzie erased the Tiger lead, blowing by the Tigers’ second-leg runner like Road Runner past Coyote. Fellow frosh Katelyn Matarese extended the lead, and senior Ellaney Matarese anchored the victory, with the team celebration beginning long before she crossed the finish line.

“I had been telling them all year that we had a chance [to win league],” said La Cañada girls’ second-year head coach Chris Matarese. “Nobody knew if we could actually do it, but everybody bought in that we had a chance. All of the girls were going to do whatever it took to win; a lot of kids stepped up.

“It all came down to that last event, then it was a lot of sheer joy. Everybody was very excited.

“Someone told me it’s been 30 years since La Cañada beat South Pasadena,” Coach Matarese added. “I don’t know if that’s true, but this is the first time ‘my team’ has faced them, and now we’ve never lost to South Pasadena.”

If the coach was soaking in the moment, it was only made possible by one of the most amazing four-event performances in Spartan history, and it happened to be courtesy of his daughter. Senior Ellaney Matarese opened with a 5:02 victory in the 1600, followed with a win in the 400, clocking 58.44 (one of the fastest LCHS performances of all time), ran second in the 200 (26.75), and finished with her relay anchor leg.

McKenzie scored a victory in the 800 (2:32.75), second in the 400 (59.68), a tie for first in the 3200 with Katelyn Matarese (12:08), and a 59-second split on the 4×400 relay. The younger Matarese filled out the “big three” scoring with third in the 1600 (5:20.13), second in the 800 (2:33.25), that tie in the 3200, and her relay leg.

Spartan hurdlers came through in a big way. Nicole van Slooten, in her first varsity meet, won the 100 hurdles in 18.10, with Leslie Dick taking second (18.60). In the 300 hurdles, Dick was first in a personal record (PR) 51.32, with Artis Phillips overcoming a fall on the final hurdle to place third in 52.74.

Spartan triple jumpers Claudia Plocher and Audrey Butler made victory possible with a late-meet 1-2 finish, going 31-8 and 29-0, respectively. Butler added third in the long jump (15-8).

Pole vaulters Annalise Evans and Sundara Wakeman provided essential points with a 2-3 finish, 7 feet and 6-6, respectively. Brooke Gilchrest earned second place in the shot put (25-3). And Jordan Lay took third in high jump with a PR 4-8.

LC BOYS FALL TO SOUTH PAS

In the boys’ meet, the 4×100 relay began the day with a surprise win over South Pasadena’s league-fastest unit. Zain Bangash, Corey Cheung, Ryan Armijo and Ivan Ostry overcame a bad first handoff to edge the Tigers, running 45.23. Ostry returned to nab second in the 100 (11.51) while Armijo grabbed third in the 400 (53.93).

In the distance events, Max Smith was third in the 800 (2:17.84), Jaden Milbrodt third in the 1600 (4:47.78), and Robert Lee and Arya Ghaneh 2-3 in the 3200 (11:16.94 and 11:47.58, respectively).

Luke Johnson won his specialty, the high jump, with 5-8, following up a second-place finish in the 110 hurdles (16.90). Teammate Dominick Corrente was second (5-6) and also placed second in pole vault, clearing 11-6. Vertical jumper Tyler Callahan picked up a pair of thirds, going a PR 18-10 in long jump and 37-5 in triple jump.

For the Spartans frosh-soph girls, Catherine Mispagel picked up four wins, taking the 1600 (5:54), 800 (2:40.94), 3200 (12:39.65), and running a leg on the winning 4×400 relay, along with Caitlin Roehmholdt, Joanna Gropper and Ellie Cucullu. The Spartans lone other win came in the pole vault, with Erica Maciejewski clearing 6-0. Katelyn Hung had a notable second-place finish in long jump with a PR 15-0, giving the Spartans four long jumpers over 15 feet this season.

For the La Cañada frosh-soph boys, Samuel Parks was a double winner, taking the 110 hurdles in 19.10 and the 300 hurdles in 48.33. Other Spartan wins came in the high jump, with Andre Uribe going 4-4, and the pole vault, with Chase Kelly clearing 5-0.

Rio Hondo League vs. Pacific League

Spartan athletes helped the Rio Hondo League defeat the Pacific League in a unique league-versus-league weekend competition, 1064.5 to 959.5.

On Friday and Saturday evening at Arcadia High School, the six schools of the Rio Hondo League joined forces to take on the combined might of the eight-school Pacific League, with scoring in four divisions: boys and girls JV, and boys and girls varsity — on a 10-8-6-4-2-1 basis for first through sixth place. The Rio Hondo League prevailed in what both leagues hope will become an annual event.

In the girls’ JV section on Friday, it was La Cañada providing most of the Rio Hondo firepower. The Spartan girls opened the meet with a victory in the 4×100 relay, with Nicole van Slooten, Katelyn Hung, Lainey Johansing and Kaitlyn Creighton running 54.77. Creighton also claimed victory in the 100 (13.50). In her first-ever 400, Grace Paton crossed the finish line first in 63.45. Leslie Dick won the 300 hurdles in 51.51. And Paton, Dick, Van Slooten, and Ellie Cucullu won the 4×400 in 4:25.95.

In the boys JV section, Jeshurun Liou was a winner in the long jump (17-3), Andre Uribe took the high jump (4-2), and Andrew Berry claimed victory in the triple jump (30-2).

In Saturday’s varsity competition, Catherine Mispagel used a second-lap surge to win the 800 in a PR 2:28.5. Claudia Plocher was third in the triple jump (32-10.5), with Audrey Butler sixth (28-9.75). Plocher was also fifth in the long jump (14-9.25). La Cañada’s only other scorer was Steven Miketta, taking second in boys pole vault with a clearance of 11-6. La Cañada varsity participation was limited due to a conflict with the school’s prom.