South Whidbey cross country running to reclaim former glory

It’s been a few years since South Whidbey cross country was represented at the state championship.

The Falcons enjoyed 16 straight state appearances. Spanning the tenure of two long-term coaches, the late Carl Westling and current coach Doug Fulton, cross country state competitors were a legacy of South Whidbey.

“We’re hoping to get back to that legacy,” said Fulton, who enters his 14th season as the Falcons coach.

Fulton said the girls team wants to earn a state bid, and boys captain Ben Saari has also set a goal to compete at state. The top three teams and the top 15 runners from each gender to qualify in each district earn bids to the state championship.

“It all depends on how they develop over the course of a season,” Fulton said.

The teams are greater in number, up to 30 from 20 last season. Fulton noted the competitiveness that gets drawn out when teams are larger and how they push one another to be better.

“The more bodies you have, the more talent you’re going to have,” Fulton said.

After training at Camp Casey for five days last week, junior Michael Cavender found improved form. Each day began with a morning run and included lectures and training. Cavender benefitted from video analysis of his running form — arm motions, lift and posture.

“I pick one thing from camp up every year,” Cavender said. “One year it was something about diet, the next it was about form.”

Long before Camp Casey, the team organized itself to run during the summer. According to Fulton, the majority of his teams ran every day in the summer.

“The key to cross country is offseason conditioning,” Fulton said. “They said championships are won in the summertime.”

The small boys team means more work for team points, however.

The boys are anchored by seniors Saari and Mike Grimm, who encouraged and organized the team to commit to two-a-day workouts. Senior girls captains Chantal White and Emily Martin also organized fundraisers and team dinners, in addition to workouts.

“I didn’t make a single phone call during the summer,” said Fulton of his team’s senior leadership.

Lakewood’s boys team and Cedarcrest are considered to be the main competition within the Cascade Conference. But some of the most competitive programs in state will come to South Whidbey.

South Whidbey again hosts the South Whidbey Invite on Saturday, Sept. 18. The invite is the only regular season meet at home for the Falcons.

Fulton called it one of the biggest cross country meets in the state, with more than 40 schools and 1,800 runners.

The students looked forward to traveling to Yakima for Sunfair on Oct. 1. Sunfair is the largest race in the Northwest, according to Fulton.

Cavender said he is excited for Sunfair because it’s a unique experience for the team to travel away and be gone overnight.

At 48, Fulton still runs with his team, tagging along with the boys on all but the most difficult runs.

“We just all enjoy running and each other’s company,” Fulton said.

With only 12 days of official practice, Fulton trusted his teams’ motivation and self-management over the summer.

“They just want to do well,” Fulton explained. “They want to keep the legacy alive in both programs.”

Fulton recycled a saying of his for this season’s teams, a motto about hard work and determination.

“Believe it, then you can achieve it, so it’s worth starting soon,” Fulton said.

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