Falcon girls run to second at state

Freshman Becky Gabelein runs for the finish at the North Cascades Conference championship last month. In her debut at the state meet Saturday, Gabelein placed 51st overall and helped her team take the second-place trophy. - Matt Johnson
Freshman Becky Gabelein runs for the finish at the North Cascades Conference championship last month. In her debut at the state meet Saturday, Gabelein placed 51st overall and helped her team take the second-place trophy.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Five underclassman runners led by a comeback junior and a senior who made the transition from solid athlete to elite in one season brought home Saturday the best state tournament trophy won by a girls team at South Whidbey High School in more than a year.

Missing four varsity runners from last year’s state race, the Falcon girls — bolstered by two freshmen and two sophomores — outran eight other cross country teams on Pasco’s Sun Willows Golf Course to finish a tiebreaker ahead of Omak and take runner-up team honors behind Mount Baker at the state 2A cross country championship.

Along with South Whidbey’s boys team, which placed 10th in its race, the girls capped an autumn of running almost as memorable as the same season in 2000, when they placed third in Pasco and the boys second.

Both squads ran tightly-clustered races. Although they did not have any runners in the top 10, as they did last year, the five scoring Falcon girls all finished between 11th and 28th in team competition scoring and were separated by just over a minute. The boys had even a tighter pack as the top five finished in the same 40-second period. Doug Fulton, the Falcons’ coach, said this is how cross country teams win championships.

“People who don’t think it’s a team sport are mistaken,” he said.

Junior Julie Gabelein — running her fourth race since shaking a case of pneumonia — was the top individual placer for both teams Saturday. Eighteenth overall and 11th among runners competing on teams, she clocked a finish time 1 minute and 11 seconds faster than the mark she set in high winds last year. Similarly speedy was senior Karen Schwager, who was 1:10 faster at the end of a season in which she went from being the team’s number-six runner in 2000 to its top runner most weeks this fall.

Part of the reason Schwager was so fast was the pressure her freshman shadow put on her. One step behind her at the finish was Nancy Godsey, who moved from the team’s junior varsity ranks to being one of the fastest Falcons this year.

“I didn’t even know it was her behind me,” said Schwager, who ran most of the race alone.

Also scoring well and staying close were sophomore Callie Supsinskas (31st, 19th) and Becky Gabelein (42nd, 28th). But behind them was the runner who would make all the difference in the meet. Running sixth for the Falcons, freshman Emily Felt outran Omak’s number-six girl to break an 83-83 second-place team tie. After watching the Falcon boys lose three straight first-place tiebreakers at the conference, district, and state meets last year, Coach Fulton was happy his girls were on the winning side.

“It’s nice to win a tiebreaker,” he said.

Sophomore Courtney Hatt rounded out the Falcon lineup. She, too, ran a faster race at Pasco this year.

A little more than an hour after the last 2A girl finished the 3.1-mile race, it was the boys’ turn. Falcon sophomore James Sundquist and junior Brandon Bilyeu led the charge, finishing almost next to each other in a 20-runner sprint that gave them the 24th and 25th spots in the team competition. Sundquist said he did not see Bilyeu during the race until the older runner charged late in the race to catch up.

A few seconds after that pair finished, senior Joe Candelario crossed the line. Following closely were teammates Drew Aernie and Jeff Strong, both of whom finished the race in less than 18 minutes. Nathan Chambers and Holton Schmitt were also finishers for the team.

It was the sort of race their coach wanted them to run all season.

“They ran the best team race of the year,” Fulton said.

Both the boys and girls will lose one senior off their varsity lineups before next season. Fulton said with this year’s experience under their waistbands and some key graduation losses on other teams, the South Whidbey girls will be a favorite to win the championship in 2002, while the boys will be “in the hunt.”

Sundquist said he is ready.

“Next year we’ll do really well,” he said.

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