It was work ethic that separated Langley Middle School’s track and field team from the rest of the pack.
The Cougars’ eighth grade boys and girls captured team titles at the Cascade League Championships May 31 and June 2 at King’s High School, while the seventh grade teams finished second. Ten of the Cougars’ 65 athletes captured individual titles, while others teamed up to claim first place finishes in relays.
Head coach Don Zisette said the team’s resolve throughout the season and the athletes’ willingness to improve played a major factor in their success.
“The finals went really well,” Zisette said. “The kids just peaked at the right time.”
“It just shows the hard work all the kids put in all season. All the coaches were just really proud of their effort.”
Taking first in their respective events in the eighth-grade ranks were boys Issiah Gonzales (100 meters), Levi Buck (shot put) and girls Karyna Hezel (200, 400 long jump), Lila McCleary (100 hurdles) and the 4×100 relay team (Hezel, McCleary, Matty Straub and Ahnika Burt).
Hezel nearly went undefeated in her two years with the Cougars. Other than a second place finish in the 200 in 2015, the eighth-grader finished first in over two dozen races while competing in the 200 and 400.
Claiming gold for the seventh-graders were girls Kaia Swegler-Richmond (800, 1,600) and Serena McLain (100 hurdles, long jump) and boys Carl Henry Chapman (200, 400), Thomas Simms (1,600) and the 4×200 relay team (Simms, Eric Keene, Reilly McVay and Aidan Donnelly).
Simms, who also finished fourth in the 800 meters, was proud of his teammates’ performances. Though he wished his seventh-grade team could have captured first place like his older teammates, he was happy with the season’s conclusion. He also agreed with his head coach that the team’s hard work at practice and meets drove them to strong finishes.
“We just went after every race and tried to come in first,” Simms said. “It didn’t matter what you placed, it just mattered if you did your best.”
Simms credited his win in the 1,600 to competing in cross country in the fall, as well as the team’s workout routines. The distance runners and sprinters would often partake in the “Graveyard Run,” a two-plus mile course that takes runners around the outer reaches of the city and the Langley Cemetery.
He also felt friendly competition between his opponents and teammates helped improve his times.
“The eighth-graders were supporting and that kind of helped me if I didn’t do that good in a race,” Simms said.
Zisette, who coached alongside assistants Charlie Davies, Scott Perkins and Nikki Enters, said the focus for the season was improving overall athleticism across a broad spectrum of events. Zisette said that if the athletes were exposed to more events, their chance for success increased while it also provided them valuable experience if they continued to compete in track and field in high school.
Zisette was hopeful that eighth graders like Hezel, Gonzales, Julian Larson-Wickman and Flannery Friedman will take their talents to the high school ranks. He was also intrigued by the potential of seventh-grade athletes such as Chapman, Simms Cooper Ullmann and Aidan Donnelly, who he expects will make big strides next season.
“It was an excellent season,” Zisette said. “We had great kids out there and they were a very dedicated group.”