Girl Falcons happy with great performance at state cross country

"Lisa Depender gets blown around early in Saturday's state meet at Pasco. She ran to seventh place overall.Matt Johnson / staff photosFalcon girls cross countryWIAA State Championships -- 3.1 milesTeam scores: Mount Baker 52, Riverside 81, South Whidbey 89, Omak 100, Ephrata 111 (8 teams total)Individual results: Tara Ward 19:42, 7. Lisa Depender 20:26, 27. Julie Gabelein 21:39, 30. Sarah DeGraaf 21:45, 33. Malaena Hymas 21:54, 50. Kirsten Smethurst 22:43, 54. Karen Schwager 22:49, 67. Courtney Hatt 23:45 (74 total runners)It had been a long time since anyone had seen seven South Whidbey girls cross country runners so happy.Freshly finished running in Saturday's state cross country meet in Pasco, blue and white clad Falcon runners kept on running, right into the center of a big, open patch of turf at Sun Willows Golf Course. Once there, they showered each other with sparkling cider, laughed, and talked with pride about the team's best state race in years. They had just placed third as a team in the 2A team competition, blotting out memories of tearful finishes at state meets in 1998 and 1999.The result was one of the best by a girls team at South Whidbey and was nearly as miraculous as the state championship a Langley High School team brought home in 1979. Led by senior Lisa Depender, who placed seventh overall, the Falcons placed behind only Mount Baker and Riverside in this, the biggest race of the season.They earned their place, said Falcon coach Doug Fulton, by relying on experience and by staying at the front of the race. They went out hard and stayed with the front group, Fulton said.That task was complicated by winds so strong that they literally swept some runners off the course. Depender, who ran much of her race solo without the protection of other bodies around her, was visibly buffeted start to finish as she tracked familiar race leaders Grace Coulter of Blaine and Bobeya Krishnek of Mount Baker, and eventual race winner, Tara Ward of Woodland. Close behind, sophomore Julie Gabelein ran in tandem with senior Sarah DeGraaf, who helped pace the younger runner to 27th place -- an eight place improvement over her finish last year. DeGraaf, who finished 30th in her state debut, said between the wind, tumbleweeds, and a flying acorn that hit her in the head, the race was a chore.It was hard, DeGraaf said.Fittingly, the team made its placing with the help of a Hymas. Following in the footsteps of her older sister, all-state runner Leann Hymas, freshman Malaena Hymas made a quantum running leap to finish 33rd, nine seconds behind DeGraaf. It was the first time she had been that close to the team's top three runners all season.I got myself really psyched up mentally, Hymas said of her race.Fifth for South Whidbey was three-year state veteran Kirsten Smethurst. Having struggled most of the season to stay part of the varsity team, Smethurst had her best run of the year, finishing only one place back of her 49th-place performance in 1999.Rounding out the Falcon team were junior Karen Schwager, who placed 54th, and freshman Courtney Hatt, who crossed the line in 67th place.Last year, the Falcons placed sixth as a team at state. Doug Fulton said this year's state team surpassed early-season expectations, legitimately threatening to vie for the state title Saturday. The Falcons finished 37 points behind state champion Mount Baker and 8 points behind runner-up Riverside.Taken with the boys teams' second-place finish, Fulton said Saturday's meet was the finest ever for the school's cross country program. "

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