A late injury scratched one of their top runners, and South Whidbey’s girls cross country team still finished ninth at the state 1A meet.
The Falcon girls accomplished their season goal of reaching the 1A championship. After that, everything else was a bonus, like senior Lillianna Stelling’s top-12 finish, a costume run on the way to Pasco and just missing out on a top-eight place, which would have put South Whidbey on the awards podium.
“That would have been icing on the cake,” said Falcon freshman Carson Orr.
Orr was one of three freshmen who competed for South Whidbey. Her spot on the varsity roster was solidified when the team learned senior runner Bonnie Klamm, consistently the fourth Falcon to finish, was injured and unable to race at the championship meet.
“I was really freaked out to be on varsity,” said Orr, who posted her second-fastest 5K time (23:48.4) despite having one of her spiked shoes partly off her foot much of the race.
“My feet felt a lot lighter.”
The experience was shared by fellow varsity freshman Anna Justus. South Whidbey’s season motto for the girls team was, “When your legs get tired, run with your heart.” Those words stuck with Justus, who also ran her second-fastest time (23:44.5) during the nerve-wracking championship race.
“Every time I got tired, I thought, ‘Run for the seniors,’” Justus said.
Justus and Orr’s scores were not counted toward the team’s points. As they had all season, South Whidbey’s senior girls carried the team. Anna Hood was the final Falcon scorer at 110th place (23:10.6).
“Finding out afterwards that we were behind the eighth-place team only eight points, I felt a little bit responsible for that,” Hood said. “My only disappointment was that if I had pushed a little bit harder we could have been on the podium.”
South Whidbey missed tying eighth-place Medical Lake by eight points, a narrow margin in cross country. Though not for a lack of trying.
Stelling continued her string of sub-20 minute races with 19:44.1. At the Sun Willows Golf Course, South Whidbey’s only runner with state meet experience (she qualified as a sophomore) placed 11th out of 140 racers.
She was followed by senior Nora Felt who pulled ahead of a pair of Lakeside racers to clinch 48th place. Felt posted her fourth-fastest time of the year at 21:05.8.
“My time was not as fast as I thought I was going,” Felt said. “I felt like I was running really well, but then my time didn’t match.”
Her unfamiliarity with the course combined with some rolling hills slowed Felt, she said. One hill just after the two-mile mark stalled Felt.
“I remember thinking, ‘I just want to be on a downhill,’ and my mind was petering out,” Felt said.
Despite a stellar first year, Mitchem, a freshman, posted one of her slower 5K times at 21:13.6. Mitchem placed 54th among the 1A girls. Emma Lungren, a sophomore, struggled to break under 22 minutes and finished in 22:11.2.
The whole three-day trip wasn’t all running — just most of it. On the way to the state meet, South Whidbey stopped at Lake Sammamish for a run in makeshift costumes of capes, fake mustaches and whatever else the runners found. South Whidbey also made team T-shirts with the motto on the front as part of the festivities and fun of competing at the state meet.
“We had to get a run in, so we stopped and ran,” Felt said.
South Whidbey brought senior Kelsey Hardaway as the alternate. Just in case one of the Falcons’ top seven was unable to run, Hardaway warmed up with the team and was prepared to hit the course, though it was just fine with her that she was not called upon.
“The whole time I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re at state,’” Hardaway said. Instead, Hardaway joined the group of South Whidbey supporters along the course. “This was state, so there was so much pressure,” she said. “I was screaming my head off every time I saw a blue person, ‘Go South Whidbey!’ I had a megaphone.”