Sports

South Whidbey, Stelling kept from state by mere seconds

LANGLEY — Two seconds.

That was all that separated South Whidbey junior Lilli Stelling from qualifying for the state cross country meet. Instead, nerves caught up to her before she caught up with 15th-place finisher Olivia Capron, a freshman from Burlington-Edison.

“I’m disappointed,” Stelling said.

She qualified for the state tournament last year as a sophomore and hoped to return as a junior. The pressure got to her, at least the night before the race on Saturday, she said.

“I was really nervous about the race, I like woke up a lot (Friday) night thinking about it,” Stelling said.

Stelling ran her second-best time on the 5 kilometer (about 3.2 miles) course at South Whidbey High School. She finished in 20 minutes, 19.26 seconds to miss qualifying for the state championship by one place.

“I felt pretty good about the first mile,” Stelling said.

“Then on the second mile, I started feeling a little lethargic. I feel good about it, but it’s so frustrating being one (place) off — so frustrating.”

Before the Northwest District 1 Championship, Stelling was listed as having the 27th fastest 5K time. She knew the task was daunting in order to qualify among 81 racers.

“I just really wanted to make it to state,” Stelling said.

Stelling was South Whidbey’s closest runner to qualify for the 2A state championship.

The Falcon boys team was led by its younger runners. Freshman Cole Zink finished 38th overall, out of 86 racers. He had his best 5K time in 17:34.58.

“I felt really good at the start and felt really good the whole time, except people kept on passing me,” Zink said. “It happens.”

“I did like the PR (personal record),” Zink added of his eight seconds-improved time.

Zink, although only a freshman, was disappointed by not qualifying for the state meet. It left him with a determination, and a tinge of bitterness.

“I haven’t peaked yet, I don’t think so,” Zink said. “I wish I could have gone on more. Two more weeks, I think I would have got it."

First-year runner senior Noah Moeller finished second for the Falcons in 18:29.33. Sophomore Gavin Imes was the third Falcon boy to finish in 18:51.03.

“Gavin’s got a lot of talent,” said SWHS coach Doug Fulton. “It took him a little while to get rolling this year. If I can get him out in the summertime and get the miles in — he’s got a lot of potential.”

Ben Watanabe / The Record Falcon sophomore Gavin Imes hits his stride on the final  100 meters Saturday.

Injuries and illness hampered the Falcons’ most veteran boys.

Jhamil Bader-Jarvis, a junior, returned for the district race after three weeks off with a foot injury and an illness. He posted his second-worst 5K time of the season with 20:10.97.

“After the Sunfair race, it just went downhill, major downhill,” Bader-Jarvis said.

One Falcon didn’t even get a chance to run. Will Zink, the boys team captain, watched from the side. The Falcon senior had a stress fracture in one of his toes and missed the Cascade Conference Championship last week, as well as Saturday’s race.

“That was disappointing,” Fulton said. “Will has worked real hard. If you look at where he was — he ran 21 minutes as a freshman. We’re all real disappointed he couldn’t finish it off.”

This year is the second time in the past three seasons the Falcons won’t be represented at the state cross country championship.

“A lot of running is mental,” Fulton added. “You’ve got to come in with fire in your eyes, and you can’t have any doubt. If you have doubt, sometimes you don’t perform up to your expectations.”

The top girls 2A racer — Brittany Gappa, a junior from Squalicum — finished in 19:09.32. Patrick Gibson, also a junior from Squalicum, won the 2A boys race in 16:03.73. Thirteen of the top boys racers finished under 17 minutes.

“It was a tough race,” Fulton said. “There were a lot of really good runners in there.”

Missing out on the state championship gave South Whidbey’s young runners something to strive for next season.

“I’m definitely going to train just as hard, maybe harder even,” Stelling said.

For the boys’ top returner the solution was simple.

“I’ll just run all season,” Zink said.

He had the support of at least one teammate.

“This guy’s got three more seasons,” Bader-Jarvis said of Zink. “He can do it.”

Fulton had a surefire way for the Falcons to improve: Run, and run often.

“The key is just consistency, running five or six days a week,” Fulton said. “I wouldn’t even put a mile number on it.”

“We’re not ready to mix it up with the top end. That’s going to take a few years to develop these young kids. We’re getting there. We’ve got some good, young kids who, if they train and get after it, are going to do well.”

Some of the young kids Fulton is eager to train are still in middle school. Recently, the Langley Middle School cross country team won its league championship. Mallorie Mitchem, an eighth grader, won the girls race and will be a Falcon next season, following a long line of promising freshman such as Emma Lungren this season.

“I’m really excited for Mallorie to come up next season, too,” Stelling said. “She’s doing pretty good in middle school so I’m hoping she’ll be able to keep that up in high school, and be a little running buddy for me and to have some competition — that’d be cool.”

A full list of the times can be found here.

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