First published in the Nov. 12 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The South Pasadena High School cross-country team expects to tap into momentum this morning at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut for CIF-Southern Section prelims in the wake of a strong finish at the Rio Hondo League finals last week.
The Tigers boys’ varsity team secured a league title with a league-low 29 points in last Friday’s finals at Lacy Park in San Marino, while the girls’ varsity squad finished second behind La Cañada — a team ranked second in the CIF-SS Division 4 — with 47 points.
They all hope to further distinguish themselves in today’s prelims, in which the top five teams from each of three heats, along with the fastest of the three sixth-place teams, will earn a berth at CIF-SS finals on Nov. 20.
“We certainly expect CIF finals to be hard and we’re not taking prelims lightly,” SPHS head coach Mike Parkinson said in an interview on Tuesday. “Now that it’s back at Mt. SAC” — while the course was being rebuilt in recent years, finals were held on a flatter, dustier course — “every Monday we train hills. From mid-summer, we’ve been doing hills every Monday. Sometimes we throw in a long run with the hills too. Every week, we’re getting these kids prepared.”
Meanwhile last week, seniors Brady Nakamura and Liam de Villa took first and second place in the boys’ varsity race, finishing practically neck-and-neck at 16:59. Junior Jason Baek followed 6 seconds later, finishing at 17:05 for a competitive fifth place. Seniors Noah Kuhn (17:22) and Philson Ho (17:52) rounded out the boys’ varsity squad at eighth and 13th place, respectively.
“Liam and Brady were expected to lead, and they have,” Parkinson said of his consistent top boys this season. “[Baek] is a half-miler from track, so he really stepped up and did a great job being No. 3.”
Among the varsity boys, the Tigers beat out La Cañada (51 points), San Marino (57), Temple City (77) and Blair (155).
Senior Sydney Morrow led the way for the South Pasadena girls, clocking in at 18:52 for a third-place finish. Freshman Abby Errington followed at 19:34 for seventh place, with seniors Kerrigan Riley (20:04), Gabriela Rodriguez (20:14) and Mai Koyama (20:51) rounding out the varsity squad at 11th, 12th and 14th places.
Parkinson highlighted Rodriguez for a distinguished race that helped earn the Tigers crucial points.
“She’s always been No. 6 or 7,” he said, “so it was great for her to score as a senior.”
For the girls, La Cañada had the winning 22 points, and following the Tigers were San Marino (84), Temple City (86) and Blair (148).
Outside of varsity races, all of the junior varsity and frosh-soph squads took first in their heats — not bad at all for a team whose coach thought they had the potential for a clean sweep in the Rio Hondo League this season. Rich Gonzalez at PrepCalTrack had the boys’ team eighth in the CIF-SS Division 4 power rankings this week, while he had the girls’ team at 10th.
“I think we’re primed to do better than we’re ranked,” Parkinson said. “We’re not really concerned with anything else but Mt. SAC and CIF.”
Notably, the boys’ frosh-soph earned the rare distinction of scoring 15 — the lowest possible score in cross-country, achievable only by placing first through fifth. That squad was sophomore Keeran Murray (18:28), sophomore Jarvis Kikekawa-Fraser (18:37), freshman Adam Ruiz (18:38), sophomore Calhoun Lutz (18:39) and sophomore Owen Correll (18:40). Freshman Rocket McDonald added icing on that cake with a sixth-place finish at 18:42.
Parkinson said as he observed that race, Murray kicked it into high gear with about a mile to go, with the remaining pack successfully pacing each other so that the entire group finished the race in dramatic fashion in a dead heat together.
“I don’t think the frosh-soph team has ever done that. It’s just spectacular,” Parkinson said. “It was just amazing to see. As successful as they were, that’s a great future for us.”
The JV girls set themselves apart last week as well, scoring a winning 24 points against powerhouse La Cañada’s 32 and Temple City’s 75. That lineup included a second-place finish by Amelie Geoffron (20:40), fourth-place for Saidbh Byrne (20:49), fifth for Chloe Koo (21:51), sixth for Kaile Fernandes (21:54) and seventh for Sofia Humphrey (22:00). Largely the same group posted even faster times at the Mt. SAC Invitational, a much hillier course, in October.
With freshman Errington positioned to anchor the girls’ varsity team moving forward and the crop of JV and younger girls ready to take their seniors’ place, in addition to the blossoming underclassmen boys, Parkinson couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the team moving forward. The coach noted that between an abridged “2020” season in the spring and a resulting late start to the current season, this cross-country squad did not have as much training time as is customary.
“To have that kind of success with that little experience is phenomenal for the future,” he said. “Between the freshman boys at finals and the freshman girls at Mt. SAC, we have a fantastic future ahead of us.”