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Falcons double up in North Cascades win
It was hard to miss the symmetry on the trails behind the Mount Vernon Skagit Valley College Friday afternoon.
Two lanky South Whidbey juniors -- a boy and a girl -- and two irrepressible Falcon freshmen -- a boy and a girl -- ran as though reflected off one another in the most important 3.1 miles of the year.
Though on a poorly designed course that included more than a dozen tight turns and a half mile of asphalt, juniors James Sundquist and Callie Supsinskas sliced their way through a crushingly tight pack to monopolize third place, while freshmen Mary Bakeman and JD Peters took respective fourth- and fifth-place finishes at the North Cascades Championships.
On their way, the four runners were at the head of a royal blue wave that swept through the top 10 in each race and gathered in the first-ever dual team championship for South Whidbey.
Peters, a junior varsity runner at the start of this season, gave credit for his high placing and his team's championship to senior captain Scott Perkins. Though not a varsity scorer at the meet, Perkins gave his teammates a pre-race pep talk Peters said inspired him to improve on an already improbable rookie year.
"I felt like I had to get out and do well for the team," he said minutes after crossing the finish line Friday. "It feels great."
Whether they all heard it or not, Perkins' speech was part of a general desire to win among all of South Whidbey's runners. Though confronted with a surprise change to a conference meet course that had gone unchanged for the past six years, both the Falcon boys and girls picked their way through fields numbering more than 100 runners to place all but one of their scorers in the top 10. In doing so, they upset perennial champion Mount Baker and, on the boy's side, hit the Mountaineers with a little payback for tiebreaker losses at conference and district meets in 2000.
For the girls, the team championship confirmed something they had suspected all along. Though they lost to Mount Baker in two meets this year and were ranked behind them headed into Friday's race, the Falcons were the better team.
Supsinskas, who said she spent much of her day "visualizing" her race, had the tough assignment of staying with race and Mountaineer team leaders Karin Rhode and Andrea Brown. Though she finished behind the pair, Supsinskas was able to pick off competitors from start to finish, and crossed the line solo in a time of 20:16.
Her final effort, she said, got her clear of teammate Bakeman and Nooksack Valley runner Jackie Lewis.
"I just got a burst of energy," she said.
Beyond the top South Whidbey finishes, the teams' other scoring runners did the sort of work their coach, Doug Fulton, had hoped for all season. The top five on both the boys and girls teams all finished within about a minute of one another. When the team points were counted up at the end of the meet, the Falcons had two of the lowest scores possible -- 32 for the boys, 35 for the girls.
For the boys, a sixth-place performance by junior Conley White, sophomore Holton Schmitt's eighth-place finish in a sprint and senior Jasper Hein's 10th-place run gave the boys their best meet result of the year. Falcon junior Jeff Strong, who placed 12th overall, said his squad was simply the best on the course that day.
"We just have a solid team," he said.
In the girl's race, senior Julie Gabelein, who led her team out in the first mile, finished in a solo sixth place. Sophomore Nancy Godsey took 10th in a finish-line sprint duel, while classmate Becky Gabelein finished out the scoring by crossing the finish line in 12th place.
Unlike in past years, Falcon runners escaped injury on the NCC course. Held on the athletic fields at Skagit Valley College, the race sends runners through narrow alleyways and curving sawdust trails. Muddy corners in a rain-soaked NCC race in 2000 send dozens of runners sliding to the ground.
This year, the construction of a new tennis facility forced race officials to move the start of the race from a wide grass field to a narrow asphalt road. Coach Fulton said his runners were both lucky and smart, getting out fast in the first few hundred meters before the pack elongated on the seemingly ribbon-width trails in the school's small nature area.
After his teams received their championship trophies, Fulton told the runners they have the potential to be two of the top teams in the state meet this year. On Monday, he said two of the runners leading them this year and in the future will be Peters and Bakeman.
"Both those kids are going to be something special," he said.
Running their last races for the teams were seniors Brandon Bilyeu, Forrest Holder, Cameron Hunt, Matt Magnusson and Anna Merrill. Bilyeu's finish was his first of the year after sitting out the season with a foot injury.
The Falcons return to the Skagit Valley course Friday for Northwest District 2A championship. Featuring the same lineup of teams as the NCC meet, the event is another big opportunity for the Falcons to prove themselves, Fulton said. The girls must be one of the top two teams in the district to qualify for the state meet, while the boys must be in the top three.