Stelling, South Whidbey girls win cross country race

South Whidbey’s varsity girls cross country team takes its first steps at the South Whidbey Invite on Saturday. Lilli Stelling (far right) won the division two race. Also pictured from left to right: Anna Hood, Bonnie Klamm, Emma Lungren, Jessica Cary, Nora Felt and Marina Kovic.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
South Whidbey’s varsity girls cross country team takes its first steps at the South Whidbey Invite on Saturday. Lilli Stelling (far right) won the division two race. Also pictured from left to right: Anna Hood, Bonnie Klamm, Emma Lungren, Jessica Cary, Nora Felt and Marina Kovic.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — These Falcons have a career first to add to their accolades.

For the first time in their high school careers, the South Whidbey girls cross country runners won the South Whidbey Invitational cross country meet Saturday.

Lilli Stelling won the division two race. The Falcon junior improved her previous best South Whidbey Invite time by almost 90 seconds.

Stelling finished the 5,000-meter race, known as a 5K, in 20 minutes, 29.93 seconds.

“I felt pretty good,” Stelling said.  “I thought I was going to get a faster time because of what place I was in, but I know I was running slower so it wasn’t a very competitive race.”

Stelling competed at the 2A state cross country meet last year. At the championship race, she ran her best 5K time and finished under 20 minutes for the first time in her career. Her goal this season is to return to the state meet and break 20 minutes.

“I wish I would have ran a little faster, like 20:10,” Stelling said, who beat the second-place finisher from Squalicum by 18 seconds.

Her first-place finish helped South Whidbey’s team score. The rest of the runners solidified the Falcons as the first-place team in the division two race.

Nora Felt ran her fastest South Whidbey Invite race to claim ninth place. The South Whidbey junior finished in 21:58.41 — her second-best overall 5K time.

“This course I usually have bad runs on, so I was really happy to break the bad pattern and get turned around,” Felt said.

South Whidbey High School’s cross country course winds from the school grounds, through Community Park and back. It begins at the auxiliary football field, goes to the baseball field and around back to the track, then backtracks past the baseball diamond and into Community Park before finishing at the track.

Most of the course was OK, runners said, but the trails are notorious for being slick, muddy, humid and hilly.

Though rain fell for a while Saturday morning, the trails were mostly dry. That aided South Whidbey, which practices on the trail weekly.

South Whidbey co-captain Jessica Cary ran her second-best South Whidbey Invite to finish in 11th place. Cary, a senior, improved last year’s time by 1 minute and 35 seconds. She finished in 22:14.15.

Bonnie Klamm, a junior, ran a personal record in the 5K in 22:16.70. She finished in 13th place in the small school division.

The Falcons’ final four girls runners finished in a cluster: 32nd, 33rd, 35th and 38th places. Marina Kovic, a senior, completed the course in 22:39.13. Freshman Emma Lungren set her first 5K time at 23:42.34. Anna Hood, a junior, had her best time on her home course with 23:45.11. Taya Jae, a senior co-captain, ran her second-best time in 23:49.93.

For the Falcons boys cross country team, senior captain Will Zink led the flock. He finished 10th in the small schools race in 18 minutes, 23.40 seconds (18:23.40).

“We’ve been running two-mile races, and three miles is where it’s at for me,” he said.

Zink spent the summer running, biking and swimming daily. He was preparing to vastly improve his times, most of which were in the high 18-minute to 20-minute range.

His training, and his season, almost halted when he was hit by a car a week before the season began in August. He rested for a week to recover, and the meet on Saturday was his return to the 5K.

“This senior year has been really great so far,” Zink said. “I’ve been looking forward to this race and I felt really good.”

“I feel like 100 percent. I feel lean and mean, and I’m ready to go out and kick some butt for sure.”

The summer-long training paid off for Zink as he began in the middle of the pack after the first mile. He gained ground as the race continued to the second mile, and he passed the group toward the front as he came back to the school campus.

“I kept up with my brother at first,” Zink said. “Then I just kept that pace and tried not to lose it and went from there, making my way.”

Zink has a freshman brother, Cole, on the team. One of the senior Zink’s goals this season is to never let his brother outrun him.

On Saturday, Cole Zink was not far behind his older brother, and was South Whidbey’s second-best runner. He finished in 15th place in 18:39.73.

South Whidbey junior Jhamil Bader-Jarvis finished in 17th place and improved his course time by two-and-a-half minutes.

First-year cross country runner Noah Moeller, a senior, set his best 5K time at 18:45.12.

A group of four underclassmen almost swept placing in the low-50s. Less than three seconds separated Andy Zisette, Anders Bergquist and Gavin Imes, who placed 51st, 52nd and 53rd, respectively.

A pair of Falcons freshmen finished South Whidbey’s varsity runners. Truman Hood placed 56th and Anthony Kovic placed 78th.

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