Distance racers ready for trail fun, personal records | FALCON SPORTS PREVIEW

Jhamil Bader-Jarvis and Lilli Stelling stride off the starting line at the North County Invite last year. The two juniors are primed to push their peers to team-wide success.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Jhamil Bader-Jarvis and Lilli Stelling stride off the starting line at the North County Invite last year. The two juniors are primed to push their peers to team-wide success.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

For these two dozen Falcons, the season will be a day in the park.

That day will include 5,000 meters of trail running through mud, bugs, rain and humidity.

And the 23 members of South Whidbey’s cross country teams are ready for all of it.

“I’m definitely going to make it fun this year, definitely chill and have freshman initiation for this kid, my brother,” Will Zink, the senior boys captain, said of Cole Zink, his freshman brother.

Enjoyment was a goal for the girls team as well.

Three seniors — Jessica Cary, Marina Kovic and Taya Jae — will co-captain the team of 11 girls through the actual and figurative ups and downs of cross country.

“We really would like to make it to state this year,” Cary said. “All of us have that mentality because it’s our senior year. But the team’s so small this year, we’re going to all have to want it to make it.”

“In the back of my head, it’s like now or never,” she said.

The girls team is already on the state track. The Falcons were voted as one of the top 14 2A girls cross country teams in Washington in a coaches’ poll.

Head coach Doug Fulton was hesitant to put much credence to the ranking since their fifth-best runner switched sports, two graduated and another moved. Having a smaller team makes the task more challenging, too.

“It’s one of our smaller girls teams we’ve had in a while,” Fulton said of his 11-member girls team.

Instead, to reach state the girls have to work. Positive attitudes and commitment to practice and running are also crucial to qualifying for the state meet as a team, Cary said.

“If just one girl has the attitude that it’s not important, she can take everybody down,” Cary said.

Just as one girl could bring down the team, so can one lift it; South Whidbey has a returning state championship runner. Lilli Stelling, a junior, ran her best time of 19 minutes, 56.2 seconds at the championship meet in Pasco. Her goal is to finish about 16 seconds faster than her time at state, and Fulton thinks she can.

“I think Lilli’s a contender for top five at districts,” Fulton said. “And I think she may be a contender for top 12 at state.”

If she reaches her time goal, she’ll finish in the top 20 among 2A runners in Washington. During summer she ran daily with recent South Whidbey graduate and fellow cross country runner Chantal White.

“We’ve been running every day, like hours or an hour run each day,” Stelling said, “plus our up-tempo workouts twice a week.”

Zink was poised to be the top runner after senior captain Ben Saari graduated. The week before the season began, Zink was hit by a car and hurt his legs. It affected his outlook on competitiveness for this season.

“I got hit by a car so I’m just going to ease into it and see how things go,” Zink said.

He injured the thigh and knee area of his leg, including some ligaments. He elected to forgo surgery. It hampered an otherwise stellar summer of exercise and training; he went on a 90-mile bike ride and ran daily. Then he had to rest for two weeks after the accident.

Fulton is confident the work Zink put in this summer will help accelerate his return to form.

“He’s got a good base behind him,” Fulton said. “He’s a little sore, but he’s working hard.”

One motivator for Zink to return is to keep his freshman brother Cole at bay. They competed in the Chum Run this summer, but Will withdrew halfway through after injuring his leg.

There’s plenty of competitiveness between the brothers to carry them through the season.

“The main goal, overall, is to keep Cole on the back burner,” Zink said.

“He keeps me on my toes. He’s good, he’s going to be really good and really fast. He didn’t run all summer, so we’ll see how long he can keep it up.”

Cole is one of six freshmen who joined cross country. It’s a group that has Fulton looking to the future, especially with seniors who are veteran runners.

“I’m going to be able to develop some of the younger kids,” Fulton said. “I have a great group of freshman boys.”

A new runner, though not a freshman, is Noah Moeller. As a junior for the Falcon soccer team he missed the final few weeks due to concussions.

Those aren’t as likely in cross country, and his fitness has Fulton thrilled with the potential.

“They’ll be better than the boys last year,” Fulton said.

Having coached a few decades, Fulton still runs with the teams.

“I can still hang in there,” Fulton said. “If a coach can run with the kids, I think it’s in the best interest of the program.

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