Girl runners second to Baker at NCC

"Malaena Hymas presses a narrow advantage over teammate Karen Schwager to the line.Matt Johnson, staff photosFalcon cross countryNorth Cascades Conference Championships -- 3.1 milesGirls team scores: Mt. Baker 23, S. Whidbey 42, Lakewood 89, Granite Falls 121, Nooksack 128, Meridian 147 Individual results: 1. Grace Coulter (MB) 19:08, 4. Lisa Depender 19:56, 8. Gabelein 21:08, 9. DeGraaf 21:09, 12. Hymas 21:39, 14. Schwager 21:41, 19. Smethurst 22:23, 22. Hatt 22:36, 25. Supsinskas 22:50, 27. Kelly 22:53, 40. Merrill 24:33, 43. Mann. 25:00, 56. Hudson 26:32, 68. Mast 29:10 (78 runners total)Taking a hard corner on a muddy cross country course in Mount Vernon Friday, runner Lisa Depender felt the ground give way.She and another runner fell in a heap near the front of the North Cascades Conference championship race. For a moment, it looked as though Depender's day was in big trouble. Lying on her back for an endless few seconds, the Falcon senior decided that a little pain was not going to overshadow her final high school conference run.My ego was bruised more than my leg, she said later of the fall.So, with a trickle of blood oozing down her leg and mud splashed all over her body, Depender shook the fall off and started running again. When she crossed the finish line in fourth place behind winner Grace Coulter of Mount Baker, she learned she had run her best time ever on the NCC course.Depender's 19:56 time led South Whidbey to its second runner-up finish in the NCC in two years. Stronger and faster than in 1999, the 2000 Falcons gained ground on last year's and this year's champion, Mount Baker, and set the stage for a district showdown against the Mountaineers this Friday. It's a showdown South Whidbey coach Doug Fulton thinks his girls can win.We think we still have a shot against Baker, he said.The prediction is not far-fetched. The team ran one of its best races of the year at the championships. About a minute behind Depender, senior Sarah DeGraaf and sophomore Julie Gabelein paced each other, with Gabelein nipping DeGraaf in a finishing sprint for eighth place. The two have not run that closely all year.I felt bad, Gabelein said of passing DeGraaf.DeGraaf, however, said her younger teammate did exactly as she should have.That's what we should do, she said.Freshman Malaena Hymas was the next Falcon to cross the line, finishing 12th in 21:39. Junior Karen Schwager closed out the Falcon scoring two seconds and two places behind in 14th place.Also having strong races were the team's sixth and seventh runners, Kirsten Smethurst and Courtney Hatt. The pair placed 19th and 22nd in the 78-runner race.DeGraaf, who is one of the team's captains, said her team has a lot more speed to unleash at Friday's bi-district meet on the Mount Vernon course. That is something she knows just by evaluating the NCC race.It was good, but it wasn't exceptional, she said.The girls bi-district race at Mount Vernon's Skagit Valley College starts at 2 p.m. on Friday. "

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