Sports

State sweet 16!

Freshman Erica Johnson gives her finish everything during Saturday’s District 1 3A meet at South Whidbey High School as she heads for 14th place overall. All of the Falcons’ top-five finishers had personal best times on their home course in the race.  - Matt Johnson
Freshman Erica Johnson gives her finish everything during Saturday’s District 1 3A meet at South Whidbey High School as she heads for 14th place overall. All of the Falcons’ top-five finishers had personal best times on their home course in the race.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

“5:58, 5:59, 6 minutes, 6:01...”

At the mile post of Saturday’s District 1 3A cross county championship, three South Whidbey girls running together knew dashing through the first third of their race in just over 6 minutes meant one of two things: Either they were to have their best race of the season, or they were in trouble.

With their bid to make it to the state meet for the 16th year in a row on the line, senior Nancy Godsey, junior Mary Bakeman and sophomore Katy Gordon had gone with the pace set at the head of the 3.1-mile race, knowing they had to stay in contact with runners from Squalicum, Sehome and Bellingham if they wanted to grab one of the three qualifying team placings that day. And with 2.1 miles to go on their home course at South Whidbey High School, they were on their fastest pace of the season.

“When we heard it, we were all...” the three girls said in unison after the race, tailing off into a nervous laugh.

The trio, as well as the Falcons’ two other scoring runners in the meet — freshmen Erica Johnson and Jane Sinclair — had picked the correct strategy. On a course that wound through open fields and hilly trails around the school, South Whidbey pulled off an upset that was not expected at the start of the season. In perhaps the toughest 3A district in the state, a team that had been used to 2A competition for the previous five years had knocked out pre-race third-place favorite Bellingham to take the final to-state placing on the day. Bellingham came into the meet as the 6th-ranked 3A team in the state; the Falcons were ranked 10th.

What was required to do it was a race that just slightly exceeded perfection. All five of South Whidbey’s scoring runners ran personal best times on the course, while the top three flirted with running the course in under 20 minutes. The most important gain for the team came from a rookie, freshman Jane Sinclair. In only her second team top-five race of the year, Sinclair lopped more than three minutes off her previous big meet best on her home course to place 26th overall, passing one scoring Bellingham runner in the final 300 meters of the race to cap a 66-point day for the Falcons.

Had she finished behind her team’s usual No. 5 runner, 39th place Barbara Haupt, the Falcons would likely have wound up in a losing tie with Bellingham.

As Sinclair finished nursing a painful sideache, Falcon head coach Doug Fulton could not contain his excitement over what his team had done.

“Oh man, that was a helluva race,” he yelled out as he ran to meet the team’s final two finishers, Haupt and junior Britta Madision, at the finish line on the high school track.

Key to the team’s success was a solid esprit de corps out on the course. After passing the mile marker, South Whidbey’s three leaders stayed on a pace dictated and encouraged by Nancy Godsey.

“I felt I had to keep up that pace,” said Godsey, who would move up from 13th place at the early time check to eighth by her 20:01 finish.

Katy Gordon, who was 10th for the team, said Mary Bakeman helped keep her head in the race by encouraging her as the two ran side-by-side along the damp and muddy course.

“Mary was so supportive,” she said of her 13th-place teammate.

Behind them, Erica Johnson stayed in sight and on her fastest pace of the year, a pace she kept up until she collapsed across the finish line in a 20:18 14th place. It took several Falcon team parents to keep Johnson on her feet through the finish chute.

Set to travel to Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco for Saturday’s state meet, the Falcon team members said they gave their all to earn their berth. After being ranked as one of the top 10 girls 3A teams in the state, sitting out Pasco would have been a disappointing end to the season. Now, said Bakeman, there’s no chance of that.

“We tried our hardest and we did awesome,” she said.

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