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Van Loan pays off for Tigers

South Pasadena High sophomore collected series of wins, records while leading team to strong CIF showing

December 23, 2011|By Andrew J. Campa, andrew.campa@latimes.com

SOUTH PASADENA — It didn't take long for South Pasadena High girls' cross-country Coach Patrick McGrail to realize what type of season he would receive from sophomore Helena Van Loan.

The youngster was a relative unknown last season who came on strong in finishing second (19 minutes and 35 seconds) at the Rio Hondo League finals and eventually leading the Tigers at the CIF Southern Section Division III finals at Mt. San Antonio College.

"There was an expectation that she would have a strong season, but again, she's only a sophomore and the progress she made this season was really impressive," McGrail said. "She went from probably being the best runner on this team to being the team leader. That's not something that's easy."

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No area runner consistently posted better times throughout the course of the year than did Van Loan, who was the fastest area runner at the CIF Southern Section preliminaries, Southern Section finals and CIF-State finals.

So, it was no surprise Van Loan was selected the All-Area Girls' Cross-Country Runner of Year by the sports writers and editors of the Pasadena Sun, Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.

The Tigers officially kicked off their season at the Woodbridge Invitational in Irvine on Sept. 17.

Van Loan's Tigers competed in the girls' varsity race, where South Pasadena finished 14th overall with 330 points.

Not lost in the team action was Van Loan's individual accomplishment, as she finished eighth in 17:33, which as it turned out, was the fastest time ever posted by a South Pasadena girls' runner on any three-mile course anywhere.

"I knew I was having a good race, but I didn't think about any records," Van Loan said. "I was just focused on running and getting as many points for my team as possible."

Van Loan didn't lose her focus five days later, when she quickly showed herself as the frontrunner in league by winning the first league meet at Lacy Park on Sept. 22 with a then-personal course-best time of 18:46, ahead of runner-up Sonja Cwik (18:58) of La Cañada.

"Sonja is a great runner and makes me a better runner," Van Loan said. "You can't take it easy against her because she'll beat you."

The second league race at Crescenta Valley Park on Oct. 13 proved equally exciting, and awkward, as the race was delayed 40 minutes due to heat and then run as a combo race alongside the boys' competition.

This time, Cwik jumped out to an advantage in taking a three-second lead at the two-mile mark.

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