Burbank-area cross-country

Members of the Burbank High cross-country team, lead by Candela Fernandez (center), run drills at McCambridge Park. (Roger Wilson/Staff Photographer)

It isn’t just team competition, but individual races that will fuel much of the local excitement for the four Burbank-area schools as the cross-country season is about to commence.

Burbank and Burroughs highs, along with Providence and Bellarmine-Jefferson, are preparing for strong seasons and berths into the postseason.

BURBANK

Even though the Bulldogs weren’t in contention for a Pacific League title, they still put together a solid season in finishing third at league finals and advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division I prelims.

Like the boys’ team, the girls are also undergoing a reorganization, as the squad graduated five of seven runners from last year, including solid middle pack runners in Arlette Movsesyan, Daisy Ignacio and Taryn Stevenson.

The positive news is that All-Area Girls’ Track Athlete of the Year Candela Fernandez is back after putting together a wonderful sophomore campaign.

Fernandez finished third at the Pacific League finals (17:45.62) at Arcadia County Park in topping area rival Megan Melnyk (fourth, 17:50.28) of Crescenta Valley and trailing only the Arcadia stellar twosome of Veronica Yamane (first, 17:20.28) and Laura Guidolin (second, 17:31.03).

Fernandez just missed advancing to the CIF Southern Section I finals the following week when she placed 14th (18:29) in her heat of the Division I preliminaries at Mt. San Antonio College and missed qualifying by two spots.

The effort capped a strong season for Fernandez, who set school course records at Arcadia County Park, Huntington Beach’s Central Park, Crescenta Valley Park, Ojai and at Mt. SAC’s shortened Fastback Shootout course.

All that remains for Fernandez is tracking down the school course records for Clovis (18:33) and Mt. SAC (18:12), which are still owned by McKenzie Paul.

While Fernandez will likely be up front battling for a league title, the fate of the Bulldogs may very well rest on the next four scorers.

Junior team captain Caroline Adams is expected to be Burbank’s No. 2 runner and provide leadership for a group that includes junior Alexia Hatun, a former figure skater, one-time volleyball and softball player Kira Bouchard, juniors Adrienne Coronel and Elyssa Dimaano and sophomores Jaime Diammichel, Gabby Collins and Xochitl Torres.

BURROUGHS

Seven points is all that separated the Indians from a postseason berth.

Burroughs finished with 128 points and took fifth at the Pacific League finals on Nov. 7 in Arcadia, which was just a little out of the reach of fourth-place Hoover (121), which earned a berth to the following week’s divisional preliminaries at Mt. SAC.

Unlike the Burroughs boys, the girls are relatively young and inexperienced and may be led by a newcomer this season in Emily Virtue.

“[She’s] come in as a freshman and looked very impressive,” Burroughs Coach John Peebles said, “so it looks like she’ll lead the way.”

Senior Valerie Monroy, the Indians’ No. 3 runner at league finals last year, has shown some progress this summer and is perhaps suited to be a top-two runner.

Junior Eileen Eckles, Burroughs’ No. 2 runner who finished 21st (20:10.47) at last year’s league finals, also figures to be in the top five as do sophomores Heidi Eligio and Molly Stapelfeldt.

“[They] all have shown glimpses of what they can do,” Peebles said. “So, we just need them to continue to work to improve as runners.”

Three other runners to keep a tab on are senior Deanna Fierro, junior Rachel Reyes and sophomore Dru Kim.

PROVIDENCE

Perhaps the local team with the best chance of winning a league championship is Providence.

The Pioneers finished runner-up to Santa Monica Pacifica Christian, 30-48, at the Liberty League Finals at Rancho Park on Nov. 8.

“We have a really solid squad,” said Providence co-coach Michelle Boucher, who is returning for her 15th season and is splitting the coaching duties with 13-year veteran Ross Genovese. “We lost some top runners, but we still have some good girls coming back.”

While the Pioneers and Seawolves will battle atop the standings, there will also likely be a solid battle for No. 1 and 2 in league individually.

Last season, Pacifica Christian junior Joanie Howe took home the league crown at Rancho Park in winning the championship in 19:49, while just fending off Providence senior Katia Dabbaghian (19:55).

Both split the league’s meets, but Howe earned the advantage at league finals.

“When those two get together, it will make for an exciting race,” Boucher said. “It should be an amazing year.”

Both return this season although the league make-up will be different in 2014 due to the inclusion of Milken Community and New Community Jewish.

Joining Dabbaghian is senior Rose Avakian, Providence’s No. 3 runner, who will look to take over for graduated No. 2 runner, Drew Tacchino, who finished third in league in 21:21.

Last season Avakian took sixth in league in 22:03.

Boucher is also anticipating a strong season from freshman Milena Mooradian.

Providence was one of two local teams to earn a trip to the CIF Southern Section divisional preliminaries at Mt. SAC, where the Pioneers concluded their season finishing 13th in their heat of the Division V event.

BELLARMINE JEFFERSON

For the first time in years, the Guards will also compete in the same league as the boys, as Bell-Jeff is moving from the Santa Cruz League to the Santa Fe League.

While the squad is likely to struggle in the team standings, individually, there’s much to be excited about with the Guards.

Coach Jim Couch has two incoming freshmen that he believes will make a big impact in Valerie Zavala and Couch’s daughter, Caitlyn Couch.

“We have two girls this year who are going to compete for league titles,” Jim Couch said. “From an age group perspective, they might be the two best in the area.”

Zavala and Caitlyn Couch have a history of facing each other, having been members of competing youth running clubs, but will now join their talents.

Besides the youngsters, Jim Couch also has a solid returner in Alana Liu, a senior who figures to provide the experience and leadership the team lacks.

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Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.