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Runners catch state highs, lows in Pasco
There were as many story lines running at one time at Saturday's 2A state cross country meet as in a good soap opera.
The overall plot was this: South Whidbey girl runners challenged for the state championship in Pasco, scoring 57 points to make runner-up six points behind East Valley-Yakima. The Falcons' score would have been good enough to win the championship last year and, perhaps, this year, except for the rise of an East Valley program making its first-ever state appearance.
Even so, nothing could eclipse the day's rising star, Mary Bakeman. A freshman who had run no better than third for her eighth-grade team last year, Bakeman ran a scripted race that took her from 20th place at the 1-mile point to eighth overall at the finish line.
No longer a "cruiser" runner, as her mother described her middle school career, Bakeman was -- in the most important meet of the season -- anything but the nervous rookie who started the season as a junior varsity runner for the Falcons. She ran her fastest time ever for a 3.1-mile race against the best competition she'd ever seen.
"It wasn't scary this time," she said after her race, referring to her out-front district run that had her leading her team for the first time this season.
Behind her, her teammates followed as closely as they could, hoping to catch any East Valley runners in sight, and to hold off the Number 3, 4 and 5 runners from conference and district rival Mount Baker. Senior Julie Gabelein finished her high school running career with a 15th place run, just outsprinting a group of three that included junior Falcon Callie Supsinskas.
The team's leading runner through much of the season, Supsinskas had little to say about her 17th-place finish -- which was two places and eight seconds faster than her state run last year -- but plenty of words of praise for Bakeman.
"I'm proud of Mary," she said. "She's become such an amazing runner."
Keeping the team in contention were the Falcons' fourth and fifth runners, sophomores Becky Gabelein and Nancy Godsey. Surging late in the race, Gabelein wound up running faster on the windy, hilly Sun Willows Golf Course at state than she did the week before on a flat district course at Skagit Valley College. When she crossed the finish line in 22nd place, the story of the meet became a cliffhanger.
Godsey, racing as well as she did the week before, almost took the Falcons to the championship. But East Valley-Yakima still had one surprise left in senior runner Jenifer Phillips. The fifth runner for that school, Phillips passed about 10 runners in the final quarter mile of the race, including Godsey, to seal the win for her team.
South Whidbey coach Doug Fulton credited his team for improving over its state finish last year; second place, won on a sixth-runner tiebreaker. With only Julie Gabelein graduating this year, he said the door is wide open for a South Whidbey championship in 2003.