When La Cañada High's cross-country teams train, they see that South Pasadena, their strongest competition in Rio Hondo League, is never far behind.
Both teams cross into each other's territory, as the Spartans take the Arroyo Seco into Pasadena and the Tigers run it all the way up into La Cañada.
"We see them running up here by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory," said Coach Mike Thatcher, who is in his fourth year with the La Cañada boys' team. "I told the team the best way to defeat South Pasadena is to prepare yourself for CIF-prelims and finals because our league isn't particularly strong."
La Cañada athletes developed several goals as they prepared for the season during the summer at their week-long training camp in Big Bear.
In 2009, both La Cañada's boys' and girls' teams continued their domination of Rio Hondo League. The boys have been league champions for five consecutive years and the girls have won 14 of the last 15 league titles.
The Spartans look to continue their dominance in league this year, but their main goal lies in the postseason. Members of both the boys' and girls' teams hope to qualify for the 2010 CIF State Finals.
"Obviously we want to win league, but our biggest concern is what happens at CIF," Thatcher said. "The postseason is definitely our biggest goal."
The boys' team returns its top runners from three to seven from last year, seniors Adam Skaggs, Andrew Fisher, Erick Lankey, Anton Cwik and junior Brendon Greene. This season, Thatcher wants see them run a tight spread from one to five, having them all finish within 30 seconds of one another.
"We don't have one super-fast runner but we have a solid five, and if they stay healthy and run together, we should be solid," Thatcher said.
Andy DiConti, third-year coach of La Cañada's girls' team, said this year will be a struggle, even in league.
"Potentially, on paper, this could be our strongest team in 10 years," DiConti said. "Despite that, it will still be a battle for that league title because I know how strong South Pasadena is this year."
For the first time since he's coached the Spartans, DiConti feels he has strong roster from which to pull. He's always had four dependable runners to rely on, but that fifth person always seemed to be two minutes behind the rest.
"It really comes down to your fourth and fifth runner," DiConti said. "You can have all the front runners you want, but if you don't have that fourth or fifth girl, you don't have a chance."
This year's starting five are seniors Courtney Schulte and Holly Shreckengast, junior Meghan Fuelling and freshman Anna Frederich and Eloise Dimase-Nordling.
"By the end of the season, I want everyone who runs in our program to feel that sense of accomplishment, where they set a goal and took steps toward that goal and work within the plan we came up with together to get them there," Thatcher said.
La Cañada is just one area school that should have its share of talent this season.
As seems often to be the case, last season ended on a high for the Flintridge Prep boys' cross-country team.
However, the journey to Fresno and a third-place finish in the CIF-State Division V finals was hardly brimming with highlights.
"It was a good way to go out, but it was also a great learning experience," Rebels Coach Ingrid Herskind said.
After 17 straight seasons of winning Prep League titles, Flintridge Prep relinquished its crown to archrival Pasadena Poly and then finished an unRebel-like sixth in the CIF Southern Section divisional finals. But, as has been the case so many times before, the Rebels shined brightest on the biggest stage.