Sports

FALLS SPORTS PREVIEW | Cross country: Runners on track for a great year

The girls cross country team celebrates finishing their daily run last week. This year’s team includes Jessica Cary, Michela Mattens, Natalie Wheeler, Caroline Habel, Cassie Bosman, Taya Jae, AJ Sanda, McKenzie Walker, Chantal White and Emily Martin. The team travels to Edmonds on Saturday, then hosts the South Whidbey Invite at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
The girls cross country team celebrates finishing their daily run last week. This year’s team includes Jessica Cary, Michela Mattens, Natalie Wheeler, Caroline Habel, Cassie Bosman, Taya Jae, AJ Sanda, McKenzie Walker, Chantal White and Emily Martin. The team travels to Edmonds on Saturday, then hosts the South Whidbey Invite at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

Once again, the South Whidbey cross country runners are in a tough spot.

Each year, in order to qualify for a berth at state, a team has to place in the top four and for the Falcons, the competition is fierce.

“We face the hardest group of schools in the state, including last year’s state champion, Sehome,” said Falcon coach Doug Fulton. “Add in Squalicum, Cedarcrest and Bellingham and both the boys and girl’s teams are going to need to run their best if they want to make it.”

Fulton said he’s encouraged by the team’s dedication to the summer training schedule.

“They can handle more mileage and they’re much stronger,” he said. “Championships are won in the summer.”

Unfortunately, since South Whidbey hosts both an invitational and this season’s District 1 challenge, there’re only two chances for fans to watch the kids on their 3.1-kilometer cross country runs.

But it’ll be worth it — the South Whidbey Invite on Saturday, Sept. 20 will feature some of the best runners in the state from more than

30 schools in Washington and Oregon, including some big 4A competitors.

“These are nationally-ranked teams,” Fulton noted. “The chance for our runners to compete at this level is a great learning experience for them.”

This is Fulton’s 11th year at the helm of cross country and, in the spring, track. He teaches chemistry and physical science in a class adorned by a glass trophy case.

Over the years, the boys teams have placed second and third at state coupled with conference and district titles, despite being in the toughest 2A league.

“But that elevates our kids,” Fulton explained. “They know they have to work harder and that’s why they were second in the Cascade Conference last year.”

The coach said the boys are young but talented. Scott Stallman, Blake Koszarack, Dean Freundlich and Ben Saar are returning and Fulton has high hopes.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said.

This is Stallman’s fourth year on the cross country team.

“We had a lot of grads in June and we’re a little short-handed this season, but our freshman class is very strong,” Stallman said. “We have a solid core of varsity runners.”

Unlike the boys, six of seven top girl runners are returning — Cassie and Courtney Bosman, Caroline Habel, Chantal White, Emily Martin and Jen Gemkow.

White noted there are many components involved in running well.

“I learned this season to run on my mid-foot instead of my heels, for both speed and endurance,” she said. “I’ve been eating a lot better, more fruits and veggies.”

But, she added, it’s the closeness of the girls that makes her work so hard. “They are the best, supportive, warm and they really care about how I’m doing. And I care about them.”

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